Successful careers in law and health behind them, Buck Parker and Fran Finney dive into their new community
By Stuart Watson
From the spacious living room of their home atop Lenz Butte northeast of Odell, Vawter “Buck” Parker and Fran Finney sit on a perfect perch with a sweeping double-mountain view. It is just reward for nearly four decades of legal work that tracked the emergence of the environmental movement and major battles over resource use in the western United States and the Arctic.
Buck, the son of Vawter and Alberta Parker, grew up in the valley. Vawter practiced law for years in downtown Hood River. It made sense that Buck would follow a similar path. He studied at Stanford and Harvard. “I took the first course in environmental law at Harvard,” Buck says. “It was a little skimpy in substance.” Major environmental legislation was yet to come.
Buck says he took the course because he was interested in the subject, having grown up camping with his family and feeling—as many others did—the loss of cultural landmarks such as Celilo Falls. “I had no plan to go into environmental law,” he says.
After taking a position with a Portland firm that focused on corporate litigation and appeals, Buck’s environmental sympathies nudged him into providing free legal help to environmental groups. Simple steps led to open doors. Buck met the litigation coordinator for the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, who was looking for a successor.
“It sounded like a fun thing to do,” Buck says. “The Defense Fund was a pioneer in environmental law.” For people unfamiliar with the world of environmental activism, Buck says not all of its players perform in the same stadiums.
For example, he says some organizations—such as the Natural Resources Defense Council—focused on policy and trying to influence legislation. “Environmental litigation isn’t the end in itself,” Buck says. “It’s about violation of regulations, and the offender has to go back and do it right.” Enticed by the chance to hold corporate malefactors accountable, Buck looked to move south. Lucky for him, his wife was game.
They had just married, and Fran was looking to take her physical therapy career into management. She needed graduate studies to get there, and San Francisco had more options than Portland. The couple moved to California in 1980. After the untimely death of the SCLDF executive director in 1991, Buck became its executive director.
In 1997, he helped the group change its name to Earthjustice. It had always been independent of the Sierra Club. Buck says the name change helped chart its own path. Buck says one of his most memorable times followed work by Earthjustice to defend the Clinton administration’s decision to safeguard 58 million acres of roadless federal land. “We came through the Bush administration with the roadless rule intact,” Buck says. “I’m really quite pleased with it.”
Fran moved into a career with Kaiser Permanente. Ten years after taking the helm of Earthjustice, Buck was ready to downshift. For the last several years of his career, he focused on working with the eight-nation Arctic Council as it negotiated a treaty to address limits on resource development above the Arctic Circle.
“The most interesting part for me was as a result of the Gulf oil spill, which pointed out how ill-prepared we were to deal with that sort of situation in the Arctic,” Buck says.
He says it was a real learning experience, and taught him immense respect for U.S. State Department negotiators who worked out a deal with seven other nations. Moving back to Oregon had always been in Buck and Fran’s plans.
They found their eventual retirement homesite of 25 acres in 2010. They moved into their house in October 2014 after more than two years of construction, during which they lived in an adjacent horse barn with a bathroom. They bought their property from Dave and Silvia DeGroot, who had owned Double Dutch Alpaca Farms.
“But Fran and I knew that we didn’t want to have an alpaca business,” Buck says. They did, however, want to reflect their values in the new home. Two solar arrays on the roof are net-metered, which means they put power back onto the grid when they are energized. The house is wired to draw power from Hood River Electric Cooperative when the sun doesn’t shine.
A 600-foot pipeline beneath a pasture to the south helps heat and cool the house through attached heat exchangers. The couple’s values are reflected in their community service efforts as well. Buck continues to serve on the boards of the Circumpolar Conservation Union and Pacific Environment.
He and Fran busy themselves with a variety of volunteer work, for such causes as the Hood River Warming Shelter, Friends of the Hood River County Library and the History Museum of Hood River County. The couple point to those organizations as representing a community rich in spirit—among the many reasons they returned to the valley.
“Had Hood River not changed, I’m not sure we would’ve wanted to come back,” Buck says, as he packs his gear for a hike into the Goat Rocks Wilderness.
Buck refers to the revitalization that followed discovery of the area in the early 1980s by windsurfers who brought new vitality downtown, absorbed empty retail space and, in time, became part of a surge of newcomers—including physicians, telecommuters, engineers, and athletic gear and apparel designers—who had a way to generate income and live in a place they had come to know from visiting for recreation.
This windfall added to the economic and social vitality of a region long identified with natural resource industries such as logging and orchard crops.
“This town literally got a second wind,” Buck says. “It’s changed, and that brought in a lot of interesting people.”