A Warrior for Conservation
At just 40 years old, Ralph Bloemers JD’98 already has etched his legacy into the Northwest’s landscape.
His four-attorney Portland environmental law firm, the Crag Law Center, regularly challenges the government, oil and timber companies and big corporations on behalf of individuals or community and environmental groups fighting to preserve the West’s most wild places and natural resources. They’ve notched some big wins in recent years: After the firm filed a lawsuit in state and federal court challenging a destination resort proposal on the north side of Mount Hood and a large old-growth timber sale, Bloemers and his colleagues worked closely with Oregon’s congressional delegation to craft successful legislation resulting in the designation of 125,000 acres of new wilderness and 85 miles of new river protection. The firm also challenged the U.S. Forest Service’s plans for a massive old-growth logging project in undesignated roadless areas in the Umatilla National Forest in Washington state, winning a ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said the Forest Service must disclose the quality and quantity of roadless areas within forests and must consider options that don’t log old-growth forests.
Crag also won a unanimous decision in 2010 in the 9th Circuit requiring timber companies to comply with the Clean Water Act. Advocates of the law maintained for decades that the pipes, ditches and channels used by the timber industry constitute industrial point-source pollution, thus requiring companies to get permits when they channel polluted stormwater directly into a river or stream. As the case was set to go before the U.S. Supreme Court last December, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a last-minute rule amending the central regulation at issue in the case.
Bloemers (pronounced “Bloomers”) and Christopher G. Winter, both of whom formerly practiced at Stoel Rives, founded the nonprofit Crag Law Center in 2001. “Crag” originally was an acronym for Cascade Resources Advocacy Group, but the firm changed its name in 2006. At first it focused its work on environmental issues affecting the Cascades mountain range in Oregon and Washington, but “as the needs have grown, so has the extent and reach of our work beyond the Pacific Northwest,” Bloemers said.
Crag differs from other organizations that concentrate on litigation and lobbying in that the firm serves as a complete legal resource for conservation groups. Because industry lobbies are heavily funded, conservationists are at “a huge disadvantage in any decision-making process,” said Dick Roy, an attorney who heads the Center for Earth Leadership in Portland. “Crag allows small groups to be represented in what turns out to be major issues.”
Recently retired Oregon Supreme Court Justice Robert D. Durham, to whom Bloemers refers as “my mentor during law school and a positive influence in my career development,” said Bloemers has achieved much legal success and has been savvy in attracting financial support.
“I knew that down in his heart, Ralph would end up in some type of environmental work on behalf of the community,” Durham said.
“I’m impressed with Crag. It’s grown in respect since he began it. They blended a strong environmental ethic with professionalism, as well as good, old-fashioned political fundraising.”
Bloemers is a farm boy and a city kid. He was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and lived there until he was about 5 years old when his family moved to Virginia. His father, who is Dutch, went back and forth for many years while continuing to run his business in the Netherlands.
Bloemers grew up on a 600-acre farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Charlottesville, Va., where his mother was raised. His family’s farm was near the Shenandoah National Park and on the river that provided the drinking water to Charlottesville. They owned 75 Holstein cows and made Gouda cheese for sale at specialty stores on the East Coast. Young Ralph was responsible for making hay, taking care of 30 or so chickens, mowing, weeding and doing farm maintenance.
Bloemers often spent summers in Rotterdam and studied international environmental law for a semester at the Rijks Universiteit de Rechtsgeleerheid (Royal Dutch Law School) in Leiden during the first semester of his third year at Willamette. He speaks fluent Dutch, decent German and some basic French and Spanish. At Willamette, he completed an externship at 1000 Friends of Oregon and a fellowship at The Nature Conservancy, where he learned about land use and natural resources work. He graduated cum laude.
“I feel strongly that what I have created here is bigger than me,” he said of Crag. “I am as proud of the role I play supporting my colleagues and being a part of creating an organization where the next generation of environmental advocates can grow as lawyers as I am about my own cases.”
Bloemers concedes that his work involved sacrificing the high income he was making at Stoel Rives, where he spent three years before co-founding Crag. He estimates he gave up about $1.5 million he would have made had he remained with Stoel Rives. But he says it was a personal choice, one he planned for by living below his means and paying off his law school debts.
That was more than a decade ago, and he has no regrets. “I couldn’t have dreamed it would turn out as well as it did, and that the community would respond the way it has,” he said. “I went to law school to do this, not just to make money. I had the sense that something needed to be done.”
— Cliff Collins
Ralph Bloemers stands at a farm on Grand Island in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where he is helping residents block the expansion of a gravel pit.
“As the needs have grown, so has the extent and reach of our work beyond the Pacific Northwest”