Spokane Activist Named ‘American Land Hero’

After more than 15 years of selfless devotion to issues affecting public lands, Spokane activist John Osborn, 39, has been recognized by The Wilderness Society as one of “Ten American Land Heroes.”

The national conservation award was announced two weeks ago in Washington, D.C.

Osborn, a physician at the Veterans Hospital, took a leading role in combating threats to Idaho wilderness in the 1980s while completing his medical residency, “an experience known to eat young doctors alive,” said Ben Beach, Wilderness Society spokesman.

In the ‘80s, he wrote the 800-page appeal to the flawed Idaho Panhandle National Forests management plan and helped found the Inland Empire Public Lands Council. He was instrumental in keeping what would have been a $14 million taxpayer-funded system of logging roads out of the Mallard-Larkins wilderness-study area.

His watch continues, working with other environmentalists to combat the excess of industry and the complacency of the electorate on critical issue ranging from salvage logging to heavy metals pollution of Lake Coeur d’Alene.

“John is almost superhuman,” said Bob Freimark, assistant Northwest regional director for the Wilderness Society. “He has many talents, and he’s poured every single one of them into efforts to protect the Northwest’s natural qualities for generations to come.”

The work is often frustrating, Osborn said last week, noting Monday’s editorial in The Spokesman-Review. The editorial dismissed as propaganda the Public Lands Council’s crusade to deal with the heavy metals a century of mining has dumped in the Spokane River watershed.

“Instead of calling the council a public interest group, we’re being called a special interest group,” he said. “I’m being charged with using scare tactics for pointing out the threat of lead in our watershed. Frankly, lead IS pretty scary.”

Osborn said poisoning from lead and other heavy metals does its work quickly each spring to kill migrating swans and other waterfowl along the Coeur d’Alene River.

“But in people, the poisoning is insidious,” he said. “Over the years, the toxic waste effects everything from health to intelligence.”

Now that the winter’s floods have spread Coeur d’Alene River sediments all over the flood plain, people in the region are exposed to toxic waste when they hike, boat, fish and when the wind blows, he said.

“People along Lake Coeur d’Alene were warned this winter about the dangers of drinking water from their wells,” he said.

“Our watersheds are critically important,” Osborn said. “It’s not a special interest crusade to clean them up or to protect them from lawless salvage logging that compounds these problems. It’s in everyone’s best interest.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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