John Amodio

Voices in the Wilderness

Recorded: April 17, 2014

John Amodio moved to the north coast of California, where the giant old growth redwood trees are found, to attend Humboldt State University. Soon he and a small band of students were inspired by Dr. Rudi Becking, a European trained ecologists, to finding a way to expand the recently created Redwood National Park, whose boundaries were a political compromise that were destroying the integrity of the Park.  As part of the Emerald Creek Committee, John played a central role in elevating the issue and spent more than a year in Washington, D.C.  organizing and lobbying, mentored by Representative Phil Burton, the legislative genius behind the successful Park expansion.


John began his environmental activism as a student at Humboldt State University and played central role in the expansion of Redwood National Park in 1978. He spent 15 years as an environmental advocate “working on government.” During this time he was the founding Executive Director of the Tuolumne River Trust when 83 miles of the Tuolumne River were preserved as a Wild and Scenic River. He later conceived a plan to protect 300,000 acres of the Smith River, California’s only major undamned river, as a National Wild River Recreation area, which Congressionally established in 1990. He then “worked in government” in a variety of environmental positions until 2013.   In retrospect, he says working “on government” was more fun and productive He and his family live in Sacramento, where he consults on policy issues for forests and rivers.


John Amodio:    So really, I moved to Humboldt on a fluke, in that I picked up a hitchhiker when I was living in Santa Cruz having escaped the East Coast, and having just been, you know, had my world change by the grandeur of the West.  And it had me shift from, you know, kind of activism on more the anti-war front, to discovering the environment and wanting to be part of that.  And a hitchhiker told me that as much as Santa Cruz was pleasant that, you know, the best place he’d been to school was Humboldt State.  On his advice, I applied there, moved up there and fortunately fell under the guidance of, you know, a renegade professor, if you will, Dr. Rudi Becking.  And so through that, we started a little student led group called the Emerald Creek Committee.  This was based on the fact that when Redwood National Park had been created, not that many years before in 1968. It had been a total political–you know, had been gerrymandered.  They had drawn the boundaries to reflect political reality, not the needs of the forest.  So they had just a very narrow one-quarter mile preservation area that snaked 12 miles up Redwood Creek. The whole purpose of which was so that they could retain the world’s tallest tree without taking much of the forest land away from the timber corporations.  And so here it was five years later, and already it has become quite evident that when you don’t preserve the upslope areas in what is literally one of the most geologically unstable watersheds with 80 inches of rain a year, gravity will do what it’s going to do.  And it started to just create massive landslides, erosion, and the National Park itself was seriously in jeopardy of losing much of what the public had paid almost a billion dollars for.

John Amodio:    We started off–we were, you know, obviously naive, but actually we were truly the only voices in the wilderness because the major environmental groups had moved on to other issues.  And I would say we were the ones who, you know, rang that clarion call that all is not well. And you know just through dint of effort, we slowly started to get some visibility and traction.  The turning point was that Jimmy Carter, literally two days before the election that year, had issued a report, or issued a statement of support, that if he were elected he would work to protect the old growth redwoods around [Redwood] National Park. That then gave us that lift that let us begin to have the issue taken seriously.

John Amodio:    I think that was the era in which the–frankly, it turned out to be a fantasy that they could treat the forests as if they were corn fields in Iowa and just, you know, clear cut them, and then plant one type of tree in plantations, and they could get a very short rotation. We lost so much during that era.  Not only did we lose a lot of environmental values, but we so over cut that, you know, what could have been sustainable jobs ended up being cut and run situations in which much of the industry has subsequently collapsed.  Because those poor folks had been terrorized–they were told that life as they knew it was going to end.  And in fact, it was going to end whether there was a park expansion or not, because they had been over cutting so rapidly that the–what the park expansion meant was that that maybe the cutting would end two years sooner than it would otherwise.  But what [Phil] Burton did, because he was such–he was such a friend of labor, he did something never done before and I don’t think ever since.  He added a whole separate section to the bill that ensured that not just the stockowners, you know, the big 3 corporations whose land was going to be taken, but the affected workers would receive income support for a period of time.  You’re not always going to be able to build common ground with folks, you’re going to have to be willing to stand firm behind your convictions and oppose and say no, but that there’s really not a downside to trying to separate the opponent, the person from their position.  Because sometimes it will lead to finding some common ground to let you, you know, let you make progress that you would not otherwise, and I think that may be even more true today.

John Amodio:    I would say that what I carry with me now is that, yeah, you want to be clear, firm in your convictions, be willing to go to the mat if necessary, but first explore the other options.