Throughout the years Oregon Wild has had some pretty amazing women in our orbit – beloved for their long lasting and profound contributions to conservation. This Women’s History Month, we fondly reflect on the legacy and continued work of three of our former staff members, tireless advocates who fought to protect Oregon’s many wild places for generations to come. Learn more about the leadership and strength of Regna Merritt, Joy Belsky, and Cameron La Follette, stars from Oregon Wild’s history.
“If you’re angry about the logging of ancient forests on the Mt. Hood National Forest and want to help protect our remaining groves, Regna is the woman to talk to.”
So began the introduction to new ONRC staffer Regna Merritt in the Summer 1991 issue of our newsletter, Wild Oregon. From her early days fighting timber sales, spearheading efforts to protect the Bull Run watershed, and pushing for designation of the Opal Creek Wilderness, Regna displayed an aptitude for galvanizing community support behind the preservation of our state’s most precious places.
In 1999, she was named the organization’s Executive Director, a position she held for over ten years. Little could she have known that her time at the helm of Oregon Wild would be marked by eight years of the anti-environment George W. Bush administration. Despite these challenges, Regna mixed her dogged determination with her warm, welcoming personality to steer Oregon Wild through the tough times.
When Regna stepped down in the fall of 2010 she could count as her accomplishments the largest single expansion of Wilderness in the state since 1984, defeating the Bush administration’s massive old-growth logging plan in western Oregon, and securing permanent legislative protections for her beloved Bull Run watershed.
Regna went on to fight climate change at Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility before fully retiring in 2019.
– Sean Stevens, Executive Director
Joy Belsky was Oregon Wild's first, and so far only, staff scientist. Born in Texas, Joy had three degrees, including a degree in forest ecology from Yale School of Forestry, and authored more than 40 published papers. Joy studied grassland ecology in Africa then brought what she learned there to help conserve Oregon's high deserts and forests. Joy was a passionate advocate for Oregon's wildlife and wildlands. Some of her contributions while at Oregon Wild from 1993 to 1996 included: exposing the role of livestock grazing in degrading forest health, defending the ecological role of coyotes, highlighting the importance of biological soil crusts, countering the war on native juniper, and much more. Joy was a fearless advocate, who's work brought her into conflict with traditional western values. High Country News said Joy was "one of the most prominent American women in range management and earned her the ire - and often the grudging respect - of the mostly male ranchers and range managers who had long dominated the field." After working at Oregon Wild, Joy worked for Oregon Natural Desert Association. Joy died of breast cancer in December 2001 at the age of 56.
– Doug Heiken, Conservation and Restoration Coordinator
Cameron La Follette
Cameron La Follette joined Oregon Wild during the darkest days of old-growth logging. In the late 1970's, most people didn't know what an old-growth tree was, and thought our forests were endless. In 1979, with two square miles of old-growth being clearcut every week, Cameron wrote Saving All the Pieces, a 144 page report on the irreplaceable value of these forests, and helped educate a generation of Oregon conservation advocates. While with Oregon Wild, she fought to safeguard old-growth on our public lands, and played a lead role in a deal that preserved Crabtree Valley and the King Tut Tree, a towering 800-year-old Douglas Fir, on BLM lands. After leaving Oregon Wild, Cameron went on to become a fierce advocate for Oregon's coastal treasures. fighting sprawl development and the loss of wetlands and habitat. She has also continued to shape and guide Oregon Wild's advocacy over the years on issues ranging from Elliott State Forest to sea otter recovery. And in her spare time, Cameron is a poet who also solved the mystery of a Spanish galleon that was shipwrecked on the Oregon Coast.
– Steve Pedery, Conservation Director