2006 Prize Winner
In a tiny, map-strewn office in North Portland, wedged between an enormous printer and a computer monitor that looks to weigh as much as he does, Erik Fernandez spends every day on the front lines of the battle to protect the wilderness areas around Mount Hood.
As wilderness coordinator for Oregon Wild, the states most active wilderness- and wildlife-protection advocacy organization, Fernandez has spent much of the last decade working to preserve Mount Hoods old-growth forest.
Now, with preservation bills from Oregon legislators before both the U.S. House and Senate, Fernandez and his colleagues are finally seeing their work pay off. There are a lot of people, myself included, who have been working on this for 10 years, he says. It would be a great Christmas present for all of those people if the delegation were able to come together and work out a solution to pass the bill by the end of the year.
These days, Oregon Wild (formerly known as Oregon Natural Resources Council) is working closely with backers of the bills to determine what areas of the mountain merit preservation. To do that, Fernandez has had to become intimate with the lay of the land. From his Portland office, he uses geographical-analysis software to produce maps of areas in need of protection; to find those areas, he has to spend a lot of time in the field.
Ive ended up hiking virtually every trail around Mount Hood and the Gorge, he says. On any given day, I could end up having to go out in the field and gather information on the values of protecting a given area: Are there fish in this stream? Are there rare plants in this area? And then I document that.
A graduate of the University of Portland, Fernandez, 31, started at Oregon Wild as a volunteer and eventually became a paid staffer seven years ago. Now he puts in 50 hours a week in the effort to save the natural spaces he cares about.
Its a very motivating time to be working righ t now, he says. At this point in the process, if I stay late or get more work done this weekend, it may mean that more areas get protected.
Fernandez says hes honored to receive the Skidmore Prize and hopes it will help gain exposure for his organizations efforts: As great as the award is, I think the real prize will be passing the bill and having thousand-acre stands of old-growth trees forever.