“El lobo loco.” – Hazel Wolf’s campaigns for the conservation of forests and the environment

“El lobo loco.” – Hazel Wolf’s campaigns for the conservation of forests and the environment – Column

Bill Donahue

When the old woman got to the trailhead, briefcase in hand, the Student Conservation Association kids were half-a-mile away in the Washington old-growth, clearing brush off the path. But Hazel Wolf wanted to see them. So she started into the woods.

Wolf, then 95, crossed two rickety bridges, climbed over old cedar roots, and hiked up two flights of stairs carved into the dirt. Upon reaching the trail workers, she zipped open her powder-blue valise and pulled out a typewritten speech.

Addressing a dozen inner-city teens, Wolf spoke quietly of how she’d grown up poor and in love with the forest, and then, laughing, she assured the teens that yes, she still had all her own teeth.

“You could have heard a pin drop,” recalls supervisor Peter Sanborn. “Hazel was clearly authentic, and she talked to the kids casually, as if she were a teenager. She was amazing.”

And still is. Now 98, Wolf, who lives in Seattle, still likes to kayak and bird watch, and is probably the most politically vital great-great-grandmother alive. A practical-minded champion of both social justice and the environment, Wolf specializes in building alliances between activists. She has one basic mission – “people and nature before profits.”

Since turning 90, Wolf has worked on nature-related causes, lobbied for federal aid to out-of-work loggers, co-founded a group aimed at alleviating pollution in Seattle’s poor neighborhoods and edited a twice-a-year conservation magazine, Outdoors West.

Born on March 10, 1898, Wolf grew up in Victoria, British Columbia. Nature was her sanctuary. As a child she often found solace by going alone to what she calls “a sacred place” – a small forest clearing close to Victoria. She didn’t start working for nature until just before her 1965 retirement, when the Seattle Audubon Society invited her to a meeting. Soon she was hooked.

In her first major campaign, she used her charm and her spine to preserve a 3,000-acre timberland, home to 200 species of birds. Cascade Timber – now Boise Cascade – which owned the area near Washington’s Wenas Creek, gradually caved in and created Wenas Wildlife Sanctuary in 1979. Jack Whitnall, Cascade’s publicist then, remembers Wolf as “loudmouthed and obnoxious. She knew what she wanted,” he says, “but you know, I loved her dearly.”

In 1979, Hazel became one of the nation’s first forest advocates to ally with Native Americans. Driving her old Plymouth Valiant and paying her own expenses, she visited most of Washington’s 24 tribes to speak about logging and salmon. The result: a conference of representatives from most tribes and from Sierra Club and Greenpeace.

“We call Hazel ‘el lobo loco’ (Spanish for ‘crazy wolf,’) says Kurt Russo, a treaty rights specialist for Washington’s Lummi Indian Nation. “She is fearless and peerless, and she gets it.”

Russo says Wolf has played a key role in protecting native fishing rights and in saving Indian sacred forests, such as a 7,000-acre grove of cedar on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound.

And Hazel Wolf is still working. She bustles about in her office, a small, neat room in her apartment. It is hard to get her to slow down, to reflect. But when she does, she admits she has thoughts about death. “Death,” she says, “is like most things in nature. It is a gift, and the final sleep at the end of a lifetime.”

Wolf smiles, so her brow wrinkles beneath her white hair. “When I talk to kids,” she continues, “they’re curious about what it’s like to be old. It’s on the edge of their minds that someday they’ll be old, and they worry that maybe they’ll be lonely; they won’t be able to do anything. They ask what it’s like to be 98, and I say I don’t feel 98. I feel like Hazel. I’m enjoying myself, I tell them.

“What I’m doing is great fun, don’t you think?”

COPYRIGHT 1996 American Forests

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group