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Oregon Wild Loses Longtime Forest Advocate

Tim Lillebo
Tim Lillebo

Drive over the Santiam Pass to Bend from Eugene and as you drop down off the mountains you will see the big old-growth ponderosa pines that forest activist Tim Lillebo loved and worked to save. Lillebo, 61, died Feb. 9 after going out to shovel snow near his Eastern Oregon home, and he leaves behind a legacy of saving the wilderness and using collaboration to do it, according to his fellow staffers at conservation group Oregon Wild.

“He was one of those people who was both educated and spent time working in the woods and driving a log truck,” says Doug Heiken, Oregon Wild’s conservation and restoration coordinator. “He could talk to everybody and talk to them like they were the most important person in the world.” 

Lillebo’s background and people skills let him encourage collaborative work in an environment where he was sometimes the only conservationist in the room. “He was collaboration before that word got thrown around,” Heiken says.

As Oregon Wild’s Eastern Oregon wildlands advocate, Lillebo drove all over the state trying to protect trees, land and wildlife, but the big ponderosa pines were his favorite, Heiken continues. He points to Glaze Meadow, near Black Butte Ranch outside of the town of Sisters, as a prime example of Lillebo’s work. 

According to Heiken, the Glaze Meadow project, which called for thinning trees and restoring a more natural landscape and fire regime to protect old growth and homes, is “a model for the kind of restoration that finds public support and produces wood products and is a powerful testament to [Lillebo’s] whole life.”

Chandra LeGue, coordinator of Oregon Wild’s old-growth campaign, says Lillebo “took hundreds of people out there to help mark the timber sale,” and the project “has been a model for other bigger projects and helped build relationships.”

She says Lillebo, who had been with Oregon Wild since 1975, was “kind of an iconic image, a grizzled mountain man with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth” and his ever-present crushed felt hat.

“What Tim would want more than anything,” Heiken says, “is for people to go out and enjoy nature to the absolute fullest and come back and tell someone else about it so the wilds of Oregon get protected.”

Gifts in memory of Lillebo should be directed to Oregon Wild; go to oregonwild.org for more information.