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home : current news : current news January 25, 2015

2/11/2014 12:59:00 PM
Sisters mourns passing of a forest diplomat
Tim Lillebo was an advocate for wildlands and a bridge builder between interest by H. Tom Davis
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Tim Lillebo was an advocate for wildlands and a bridge builder between interest by H. Tom Davis

By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

When Tim Lillebo collapsed and died while shoveling snow at his home in Bend on Saturday afternoon, the Sisters Country felt an immediate and powerful sense of loss.

In a sense, the forests of Sisters Country were home to Lillebo, and the site of work that will stand as a living testament to his commitment to the health of Oregon's wildlands - and to his ability to work with diverse groups of people to achieve common goals.

"I just always considered him a great diplomat for the environmental community," said Bill Anthony, retired Sisters District Ranger.

Anthony and his staff worked with Lillebo on a variety of forest restoration projects that not only sought to enhance forest health but also build bridges of trust and cooperation between and among groups and interests that had been at each others' throats for decades.

Projects like the Glaze Restoration Project near Black Butte Ranch brought together management agencies like the Forest Service, environmental groups and the timber industry to hammer out plans - and get them executed - to use a variety of techniques including thinning, mowing and underburning to improve the health of forest ecosystems.

The Glaze project has become a model of both forest-health enhancement and of cooperation among interest groups, and Lillebo, who served as a wildlands advocate for the nonprofit Oregon Wild, was a big part of that.

"He was always able to see pragmatic solutions that served as many interests as possible," Anthony said. "He just walked a lot of very fine lines. I don't know of anybody who was as good at it as he was."

While the Glaze project is the jewel in the crown of cooperative efforts on the Sisters Ranger District, Lillebo worked with district staff on many projects over a 14-year period.

In that work, Anthony said, he was able to "build trust and respect, and in our case build friendships, too. I considered Tim a very good friend."

Sisters Ranger District ecologist Maret Pajutee worked closely with Lillebo on the Glaze project.

She said, "In the timber wars many people were driven by hate, but Tim was driven by love: Love for the forests, love for his wife and family, and love for the people he worked with, including ultimately former adversaries from the time when litigation seemed the only way to make people stop and talk. That's why he was able to effect change and restart the conversation on what we all wanted for the future of our forests and wild lands. He filled a unique niche with his personality and passion and fundamental kindness." Oregon Wild issued an official statement on Lillebo's death:

"The Oregon Wild family is deeply saddened by the news that our friend and colleague Tim Lillebo has passed. Our thoughts are with Tim's wife, Karen, and his family and friends in this difficult time. Tim will be remembered for so many things - his charm; his passion for rafting, hiking and hunting; and the ever-present crushed felt hat and cigar hanging from his mouth.

"For those that knew and loved Tim in his personal life he will be mourned as a loving husband and friend. For those at Oregon Wild, we will remember a hero who inspired us all and gave so much to protect Oregon's wild places. We often joked that Tim could never retire, because, there would simply be no way to replace him. It is true - Tim Lillebo was one-of-a-kind, and we will miss him dearly.

Tom Davis of Sisters recalls:

"When I moved from Idaho to Oregon in 1978 a good friend, Paul Fritz, manager of Craters of the Moon National Monument, told me a high priority for me was to get acquainted with Tim, then a young man. I did, and Tim is on my top-10 list of most admired respected advocates for good sense regarding wildlands, wilderness, water, wildlife, fish, forests and culture.

"On Sunday I informed many of my friends by email of Tim's death and received over 30 responses expressing deep regret and exceptional respect for Tim, including from all three of the top managers in the Native Fish Society.

"He was very respected within the wildlands constituency, he worked exceptionally well with those he disagreed with, he was an amazing backcountry explorer and an easy-to-connect-with friend."

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