“It is becoming the exception rather than the rule for persons to live their lives in the communities where they were born,” wrote Dick Slagle in The Spokesman-Review in 2002. “I consider myself fortunate, after eight decades, to be residing still in the place of my birth, the Okanogan Highlands of Northeast Washington.”
Slagle stayed true to these words, dying in his longtime home near Republic, Washington, on Feb. 9.
The 101-year-old left an impressive legacy of place-based conservation.
Born in 1919 in Republic, Slagle served in World War II as a medic, took over his father’s pharmacy business and helped found the Kettle Range Conservation Group in 1976.
“He had a significant impact on the conservation of wild forests in the Kettle Range,” said Tim Coleman, current director of the Kettle Range Conservation Group and Slagle’s longtime friend. “He inspired people to believe in it.”
As a medic in World War II Slagle carried a well-worn photo of White Mountain, the southernmost peak in Northeast Washington’s Kettle Range. Just before he was drafted, Slagle spent the summer of 1942 on the mountain working as a fire lookout.
“When I felt engulfed by too much Army, I could look at the photograph, and think, ‘My, what nice country that is,’ ” Slagle said in a 2008 interview with The Spokesman-Review. “It had real value.”
When he returned from the war, he took over his father’s pharmacy in downtown Republic and focused on appreciating and protecting that value.
The biggest endeavor, and disappointment, of his conservation career was an ongoing effort to designate parts of the Kettle River Range as federal wilderness areas.
That effort failed in 1984 with the passage of the Washington Wilderness Act of 1984 which designated about 1 million acres in Washington as wilderness, the highest federal protection. The act didn’t include the Kettles, however, which “broke many conservationists’ hearts,” according to 2014 history of the act.
“I wish like crazy we had been able to get his beloved Kettle Range legislated as wilderness during his lifetime,” Coleman wrote in an email. “But that fight carries on and in his memory, we will prevail.”
Still, Slagle’s level-headed advocacy helped many see the value of the Kettle Range.
Craig Romano, a guidebook author and conservationist, met Slagle in 2006 for a writing project. He spent hours in Slagle’s home talking and drinking coffee. Slagle was a warm gentle man and a great conversationalist, Romano recalled. He was a man who could work with hippies and loggers without missing a beat.
“If you mention Dick, everyone in town knew him and respected him,” Romano said. “I’ve never heard anything negative about anyone in that family.”
Other regional conservationists also praised Slagle. Mitch Friedman, the executive director of Conservation Northwest, said he wished he’d known him better.
“He did more than his share for the public good and deserved to see this magical place protected,” Friedman said in an email. “He was the last wilderness warrior of the Greatest Generation that I know of.”
Last spring, Coleman wrote to Washington senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, urging them to introduce wilderness legislation in the Kettle River Range. In that email, he mentioned that Slagle was about to turn 101 years old.
“Please do it for him if for no other reason,” he told them.