Jennifer Haynes didn’t start out as your trademark activist. The Many Rivers Group Executive Committee member describes herself as an “introverted scientist,” and for many years she resisted joining volunteer leadership or campaign efforts, thinking she didn’t fit the mold.
Jennifer joined the Sierra Club in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s. An avid hiker — she has backpacked the length of Oregon along the Pacific Crest Trail — she had been retreating from the L.A. city bustle to the Santa Monica mountains when she began to notice the extent of environmental damage being done there. But with her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and Jennifer joined the Sierra Club in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s. An avid hiker — she has backpacked the length of Oregon along the Pacific Crest Trail — she had been retreating from the L.A. city bustle to the Santa her work at Children’s Hospital, she figured it was better to stick with outings and donations, leaving the activism to others.
That all changed a year-and-a-half ago. While in the middle of pursuing her next degree in environmental nonprofit management from the University of Oregon, studying hard and switching careers, Jennifer decided to pitch her hat in the ring and run for a position as a Club board member on the Many Rivers Group Executive Committee. Needless to say, she won.
In that post, she’s been striving to protect the Elliott State Forest, an ecologically priceless tract of land threatened by privatization. The Elliott State Forest has been part of the Common School Fund lands for nearly a century, an archaic designation that has unfortunately pitted the forest’s continued preservation against the successful funding of Oregon’s public education system. State law mandates that the land be used to bring in cash that funds schools, and the obvious revenue stream from a forest is timber. Ironically then, in an effort to better our children’s future, the state is promoting ecological unsustainability.
But the Elliott isn’t just a tract of valuable trees. It’s home to marbled murrelets, spotted owls, and coho salmon, three of the Pacific Northwest’s iconic endangered species, and each in relatively high numbers to boot. Upon their listing to the Endangered Species Act and a coinciding series of environmental law suits, Oregon could no longer clear cut and log timber to the extent they desired, resulting in several years of monetary losses.
Under Governor Kate Brown, the state decided to try to minimize the losses by selling off the land. They expected to receive over $200 million for the sale to the lone bidder, a timber company. Unsurprisingly, the proposed protections for the land were frighteningly lenient.
Jennifer, a native of Eastern Oregon, and her partners in the Many Rivers Group didn’t like the sound of that. Through ads in the Eugene Weekly, rallies, and organized meetings for the campaign, along with an alliance of “Elliotteers,” a multi-organization environmental coalition, they succeeded earlier this year in convincing the State Land Board to keep the land in public ownership. Then Governor Brown and the Oregon legislature succeeded in securing $100 million in bond money during the 2017 session to buy out the most sensitive areas of the forest, constituting a major victory in the campaign to keep the Elliott in public ownership.
But even with the funding, that leaves two main goals for the continued protection of the Elliott and forests around the state in similar positions. First, Jennifer and her team want to make sure that the Elliott’s habitat conservation plan proceeds in a positive way, as the state has been known to enact and practice poor management policies in the past. Second, the passage of the Trust Lands Transfer bill in the 2017 session should help clear up any future conflicts of interest between environmental protection and children’s education. That legislation will not only impact the Elliott State Forest, but all Common School Fund lands.
And yet, despite all her success in activism, Jennifer still has a year to go in pursuit of her environmental degree and continues to identify as a scientist. To this end, she offered a message to any prospective volunteers for the Sierra Club: overcome any lingering fears or doubts about jumping into volunteering, she said. Everyone has their own abilities to offer the Club, and who knows, it could lead to a new path in life, just like it did for Jennifer.