Paper pub. date
October 2022
ISBN 9780870712180 (paperback)
ISBN 9780870712197 (hardcover)
ISBN 9780870712203 (ebook)
6 x 9 inches, 320 pages. 21 black-and-white photographs. 19 color photographs. 5 maps. Notes. Bibliography.

A Force for Nature

Nancy Russell's Fight to Save the Columbia Gorge

Bowen Blair

A Force for Nature is a biography of Nancy Russell and her successful campaign to establish and protect the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Bowen Blair tells the story of the unlikely activist who fought one of the most fiercely contested conservation battles of the 1980s, interweaving it with the natural and political history of the legendary landscape that inspired her.

The eighty-five–mile-long Columbia Gorge forms part of the border between Oregon and Washington and is one of the nation’s most historic and scenic landscapes. Many of the region’s cultural divisions boil over here—urban versus rural, west of the mountains versus east—as well as clashes over private property rights, management of public lands, and tribal treaty rights.

In the early 1980s, as a new interstate bridge linked Portland to rural counties in Washington, the Gorge’s renowned vistas were on the brink of destruction. Nancy Russell, forty-eight years old and with no experience in advocacy, fundraising, or politics, built a grassroots movement that overcame seventy years of failed efforts and bitter opposition from both Oregon and Washington governors, five of the six Gorge counties, Gorge residents, and the Reagan administration. While building her campaign, Russell stopped subdivisions, factories, and government neglect through litigation brought by her organization, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, and last-second land purchases by the Trust for Public Land (TPL). Initially ignored, then demonized, Russell had her tires slashed and her life threatened.

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act barely passed—on the last day of the congressional session in 1986—and was signed by a reluctant President Reagan. Russell positioned the Friends to be a watchdog and orchestrated the purchase of thousands of acres of land for the public. Bowen Blair, an attorney, former executive director of Friends of the Columbia Gorge, and TPL senior vice president, brings an insider’s perspective to this tumultuous and inspiring story.


About the author

Bowen Blair is an environmental attorney who has protected some of the nation’s most important landscapes. In the Columbia Gorge, Blair helped draft and lobby the act that established the country’s most prominent national scenic area and negotiated the purchase of thousands of acres for public parks and tribal homelands. He was later appointed by two Oregon governors to the Gorge Commission, which he chaired.

Read more about this author

“As a former Oregon Governor, a former Gorge commissioner, and especially as a woman, I always admired Nancy Russell for the monumental challenges she overcame to protect the Columbia Gorge. A Force for Nature describes Russell’s against-all-odds campaign in a way that entertains and inspires readers. And readers can draw insights into protecting their own treasured landscapes—even if those landscapes don’t span 85 miles, two states, a major river, and a mountain range.” —Barbara Roberts, former Governor, State of Oregon

"The Columbia River Gorge was the nation’s first proposed national scenic area, and certainly its most controversial. Now, forty years after I held the first of several contentious hearings for the National Scenic Area Act, it protects one of the country’s most scenic and historic landscapes, as well as its cultural and recreational values. The Gorge’s economy and population thrive. We should look to the National Scenic Area as a model for protecting other nationally significant, complex areas, and to Nancy Russell and A Force for Nature for inspiration.—Bob Packwood, former U.S. Senator, sponsor of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act.

“Author Bowen Blair had a front-row seat at one of the late 20th century’s most protracted, unlikely, and ultimately successful conservation stories, and his telling of it reads like a whodunnit. He compellingly traces his protagonist’s journey from self-described ‘small and provincial’ housewife to one of the country’s most admired public lands advocates as she goes toe-to-toe with US senators and overcomes myriad reversals, even death threats.” —Bonnie Henderson, author of The Next Tsunami and Hiking the Oregon Coast Trail

A Force for Nature: Nancy Russell’s Fight to Save the Columbia Gorge is great reading for anyone who has played a role, big or small, or wants to, in the battles to conserve the lands, landscapes and wildlife of Greater Yellowstone and the wider West." —Robert Liberty, Mountain Journal

“In a time when the world feels tilting towards despair, read this book. Learn from the example of one courageous woman who didn't know how to give up and overcame what seemed insurmountable odds to give us, and future generations, a national treasure—the unspoiled beauty of the Columbia River Gorge. This sweeping story, meticulously researched, affords us much needed hope that values such as integrity, idealism and altruism still exist.” —Marcy Houle, author of A Generous Nature and The Prairie Keepers

"[A] fast-paced and gripping narrative.... An inspirational tale that embodies the best of American grit and determination." —Paul Krause, Merion West

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