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Barry Rosenberg: a Fearless Force for Wild Nature

Barry Rosenberg (L) and his friend Bruce Yocum, examining the Tower fire mosaic and picking morels in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. Photo: Paul Sieraki.

The grassroots environmental movement suffered big blow this week with the death Barry Rosenberg, who fought the rampages of the timber industry in the unrelentingly hostile terrain of the Idaho Panhandle.

I met Barry at one of Ned Fritz’s anti-clearcutting gatherings in the mid-80s. Fritz was a grizzled Texan who hated clearcuts and his annual meetings in the 80s and 90s played a huge role shaping what became the national “Forest Watch” movement of grassroots activists across the country, a movement I played a small role in helping to start, mainly by giving it a name.

Unlike many of the professional environmentalists and experts-for-hire, Barry knew nearly every acre of the forests he was fighting to protect. He’d walked the mountainsides, surveyed the age and conditions of the forest stands, knew how the creeks ran, where the salmon and trout spawned, and where the grizzlies denned. Barry mapped the forests in his head and beware the Forest Service ranger who presumed to know them from a GIS or computer-generated forest plan.

He and his tireless colleague John Osborn used to send me all of their appeals of Forest Service logging schemes. There are boxes of them in my garage somewhere and they provide a kind of alternate history of the planned destruction of the Northern Rockies from the Reagan era through Biden. Democrat or Republican, it didn’t matter to Rosenberg: the forests, the fish and bears were the priority and he stood fiercely against anyone who threatened them, regardless of their rhetoric.

In 40 years of activism with The Lands Council and Kootenai Environmental Alliance, Barry never lost his energy, his fury at environmental destruction or his appreciation for the beauty of the forests, rivers and mountains of the Interior West. For nearly 50 years, he and his wife, Cathe, lived “off the grid” near Priest Lake. His carbon footprint was about as low as it comes, even before anyone knew what a carbon footprint was. Over that time, he helped save tens of 1000s of acres from the chainsaw.

Barry’s environmental activism wasn’t something he was paid to do or something he did in his spare time. It was embedded in the way he lived.  His passion was fueled by a deep knowledge of what he was fighting for and against. Barry knew when the morels were up and where the elk went for cover. He knew how the forest function buried under snow and in times of drought. He knew the financial and ecological costs of logging roads and the unquantifiable value of a landscape with big predators and giant trees. They don’t make many activists like him anymore, environmentalists with mud on their boots, burrs in their hair and fire in their gut. Maybe they never did.  Barry Rosenberg was a fearless and irreplaceable force for wild nature.