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  • A Voice For The Wilderness

  • When Julie Norman had a chance to bend the ears of the seven most powerful politicians in the nation concerning the forest environment, she didn't mince words.
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  • When Julie Norman had a chance to bend the ears of the seven most powerful politicians in the nation concerning the forest environment, she didn't mince words.
    "Diversity must be restored," she told President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and the five cabinet members in attendance. "To achieve this will require nothing less than a revolution in the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management."
    The event was President Clinton's 1993 Forest Conference in which Norman, then president of the Ashland-based Headwaters environmental group, served as a panelist offering her perspective on proper management of federal forestlands.
    Neither her friends nor foes would have been surprised by her direct approach as she called for forest reserves to protect old-growth timber and its habitat.
    Norman was known for taking strong positions in her unwavering quest for a sustainable forest environment. She was named 1992 Conservationist of the Year by Oregon Wild and an Environmental Hero in 1998 by the Wilderness Society.
    Beginning in 2000, she helped numerous TV production teams capture the wild wonders of the Siskiyous, including Martha Stewart's one-hour Siskiyou special and the PBS documentary, "A Wild American Forest."
    Under Norman's leadership, Headwaters was one of the principal plaintiffs in a lawsuit that halted logging in northern spotted owl habitat on federal lands in the Pacific Northwest until Uncle Sam came up with a plan to protect fish and wildlife.
    A direct result of the conference, the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan set a harvest level on federal forestlands that was substantially lower than it had been before the lawsuit.
    "It was a beautiful example of how citizens and scientists with good data can bring it forward and win the day," said Norman, now 64, of Ashland. "However, we did have to use the courts.
    "When the conference was held, the injunctions had been in place for over a year," she added. "The timber sales had stopped on BLM and Forest Service lands. Clinton had pooled together that big conference and demanded a new plan which got rid of the injunction."
    A former IBM systems programmer, Norman seemed like an unlikely candidate to become an environmental activist. Yet her computer expertise is what got her involved in environmental work.
    Born in Houston, she graduate from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor's degree in math and computer science, then began working as a computer programmer for IBM. She would also teach computer science, help businesses become computer savvy and guide newly minted personal computer owners through cyberspace.
    Taking a leave from IBM, she and her husband returned to the university, where she earned a master's degree in computer science and educational psychology. She then took a float trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon with her husband and father.
    "That was the big-shift moment for me," she said of the float trip.
    She and her husband decided to change their lives and become river guides. They left IBM for good and moved to Sonora, Calif., to work for the American River Touring Association.
    "I did river running for them, first in California, then moved up to the Rogue River in my third year," she said.
    From there she moved to Idaho, where she conducted tours on the Salmon River's middle fork and main stem. Then it was back to southwest Oregon, where she worked for Sundance, based in Galice, plying kayaks on the lower Rogue River.
    "I did that for eight years, working on computers in the winter," she recalled.
    Running rivers naturally led to her immersion in environmental issues. When an environmental gathering was held in English Meadows near Galice in 1983, she attended the session and learned there was a need for someone who knew computers to analyze how much timber was being cut on local federal forestlands. She was asked to do the job.
    "I was not afraid to look at those big, thick printouts," she said.
    In 1985, she joined a little-known group called Headwaters as a volunteer when it was based in Grants Pass. The environmental watchdog group would move to Ashland, and she became its president in 1988, serving in that capacity for a decade.
    Headwaters would eventually morph into what is now the Geos Institute, a group dedicated to educating people about the threat of climate change. Norman, who works for the institute, says climate change trumps all other environmental issues.
    "I feel so blessed to have seen the rivers and forests of the Siskiyou area," she said. "They are so unique and so beautiful."
    Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.
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