A calling inspired by falling trees | PostIndependent.com

A calling inspired by falling trees

Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson

As a boy growing up in Lake Oswego, Ore., Bob Millette learned early the price paid for tapping the state’s rich forests by the timber industry.”I saw the disappearance of these forests,” he said. “Very few of (them) are left after clear-cutting.”This early taste of environmental issues, which included the debate over the northern spotted owl and other endangered birds whose numbers gave way to timbering, stuck with him.Now, many years later the retired biochemical researcher and college professor lives in Glenwood Springs and promotes his passion for wild things and places as chairman of the Roaring Fork Group of the Sierra Club.His career path began at Oregon State University where he graduated with a degree in biochemistry. He then joined the Air Force, was stationed near Munich, Germany, for three years and flew C-119 troop carrier planes.After military service he headed back to academia, receiving a doctorate in biochemistry from the California Institute of Technology.

“I started out in chemical engineering but was also interested in natural sciences,” he said. His degree led to research in molecular biology, specifically on various viruses, including herpes and HIV.His first job out of graduate school was at the University of Colorado Medical Center in Denver. After a stint at Wayne State University in Detroit, he returned to his home state to Portland State University, where he conducted research and taught classes in the biology department.”I enjoyed the research more than the teaching,” he said, and the demands of teaching often cut into his research time. “Everyday was like discovery day,” he said of his research.But the demands of research also began to wear on him. “It was either publish or perish,” but even more onerous was finding money to fund research projects. “More money was going to the big powerful research groups.”I was also interested in the broader aspects of biology, (such as) environmental biology and what we were doing to our environment,” he said.

Bob retired from the university in 2000 and his wife, Maggie Pedersen, two years later as a community college counselor and teacher. Two of their children, a son and daughter, live in the Eagle Valley, so it was a natural move to come east to be closer to them.”We didn’t want to live in the Vail Valley,” as being too high in altitude and high in housing prices, he said. “We fell in love with Glenwood Springs.”As outdoor people, the area offered plenty of what they like to do: skiing, hiking, biking and fishing.Their involvement in the Sierra Club was long-standing and when the state Sierra Club chapter in Denver contacted them in 2003 to start up a group here, after some thought they agreed. The club had a previous group in the valley that had become defunct several years ago, Millette said. The membership list now numbers 800, and covers an area from Rifle to Glenwood Springs, Aspen to Marble, and as far east as Gypsum.”The biggest challenge is to get volunteers,” he said. “It’s hard to get people to volunteer their time.”Key issues these days for the club revolve around air and water quality, protection of public lands from development and the environmental effects of a burgeoning oil and gas industry.

“We’re not against oil and gas drilling, but it has to be done in a sane way,” he said.The booming oil and gas industry is one of the big reasons Millette and his wife wanted to get involved. He said he thinks that with increased threats to public lands occurring from industrial development, citizens needed a more active voice to protect land from oil and gas industry.The club is also working to encourage local towns to adopt a policy of energy efficiency to reduce their contributions to global warming.”Aspen is way ahead with their canary initiative” with hybrid buses and buying a percentage of their electrical power from alternative sources such as wind farms, he said. “We’re trying to get that going here.”Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com

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