Charles Pezeshki is an environmentalist who doesn’t hide his weaknesses.
In his first book, he exposes his temper, impatience, navigation shortcomings and his brushes with death in a kayak.
He strips himself of pretentiousness. Then he slam dunks the Forest Service and the timber industry for faults that aren’t so easily forgiven.
People who leave a paper trail of such piercing opinions on the industrial threats to fish, wildlife and water usually live in the fortress of a city.
Pezeshki lives in Troy, Idaho, where the livelihood of his neighbors is closely tied to the land.
He’s a gutsy man who doesn’t hide his passions.
“In 1994, I was drunk in a bar when I jumped on a table and said there’s a need for a book on the Clearwater Country that tells the environmental story,” Pezeshki said in an interview last week. “Being an arrogant academic, I vowed to write it myself.”
His passion is saving the million acres of the Clearwater River drainage that hasn’t yet been trashed.
“The Bitterroot divide is the end of the Frontier,” he said. “The Cascades have already been nuked.”
Pezeshki is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Washington State University.
He said he’s not a writer. But his book proves he’s wrong, at least on that point.
“Wild to the Last: Environmental Conflict in the Clearwater Country,” (WSU Press, $22.95) is tender, volatile and highly readable from cover to cover.
“Finding solutions for the atrocities going on in our forests is difficult when the public doesn’t even want to look at the problems,” he said in the interview. “Few people will venture more than once into the nuclear zone of clearcut logging.
“We have an aversion reaction to the ugliness. There are still other pretty places to go, so we turn around and run away.”
Pezeshki said he’d rather be kayaking than writing books or filing lawsuits.
“Environmentalists are thrust into the enforcer role because agencies refuse to do their job,” he said. “Unpaid citizens have to do the job the Forest Service, Environmental Protection Agency and Fish and Wildlife Service should be doing.”
Pezeshki said he is like most environmentalists, who start out in the middle of the road. “But then we are drawn out because the truth isn’t always in the middle,” he said.
“The media look for balance by reporting what environmentalists say and then what timber company officials say,” he said. “But that makes it hard for people uniformed on an issue to know what the truth is.
“The truth is that timber companies are out there razing whole hillsides and building roads that collapse into creeks.
“That isn’t my opinion, it’s really happening.”
Pezeshki hopes to recast the forest as a place rather than an issue. “I’m not against logging,” he said. “But White Sand Creek (near Lolo Pass) is a beautiful place that needs to stay like it is. You have to personalize it to make people understand.
“The boom years of the logging industry are over. It’s not a question of whether the logging train will crash. It’s a matter of when, and how much we let the industry ruin in the meantime.”
Anglers, hunters, hikers and others can find common ground with Pezeshki in his crusade to keep the remaining functioning pieces of Clearwater Country intact. The region has a nationally recognized fecundity for critters ranging from elk to cutthroat trout.
“This is not some kind of limousine liberal movement,” he said, noting that activists are as likely to be construction workers as lawyers. “This is grass roots, and it’s gaining speed.”
He said he’s ready to suffer rural hatred for intellectuals to deliver the message that the national forest system is not an entitlement to be delivered locally. “It’s a trust for the entire nation, and that’s not just my opinion, either.
“Some people in the timber industry truly love the woods,” he said. “But there’s two kinds of love. The unconditional love we have for children, and then there’s cheesecake love, which usually results in the cheesecake being eaten.”
Stories in the book are compact. They shake you up, particularly the last section on current crises.
“I try to show how out of control we are,” Pezeshki said. “People think the land stays the same as the timber war goes on. The rate of destruction might throttle up or down depending on lawsuits, but the destruction continues. The public is wrong to think there’s a lot of time to resolve all this.”
But when the new author reads to groups, he said he won’t read the most disturbing chapters.
“Those passages have the same aversion reaction as people feel when they drive into a clearcut,” he said. “I prefer to read what’s lighter. I want people to read the book, discuss it and trash it. We have to start somewhere to come to terms with the truth about our forests. Then we can start the healing.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: READING Charles Pezeshki will read from “Wild to the Last,” on April 2 at 7 p.m. at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane.