George Atiyeh described as a ‘champion’ for the forest

Wildfires

His neighbors either know him or know of the impact he had

GATES, Ore. (KOIN) — The Marion County Sheriff’s Office announced Saturday that human remains were found of the property of George Atiyeh earlier this week. The body found has not been identified. Atiyeh himself remains missing in the wake of the Beachie Creek Fire.

The community along the Santiam River has been praising the work he did to save the ecosystem there. So many people, whether on social media or otherwise, say this area would not be the natural environment it is without George Atiyeh.

Undated photo of George Atiyeh. (Courtesy Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center)

Why? In the 1980s there was consideration to clear cut that area of forest. Atiyeh fought that proposal at every chance, even persuading a documentary film crew to tell a national story about the battle he undertook.

The Opal Creek Ancient Forest designation that now preserves the area, many say wouldn’t have happened without Atiyeh.

Since then, he’s been a charismatic soul for the people who live in the canyon. His neighbors either know him or know of the impact he had. Atiyeh would take people up in his plane for a ride or to show them a different perspective of their home canyon. Some people said he made it his responsibility to take care of this land.

“What I learned from George is that with these giant, complex ecosystems like a forest, they are immense and complex, but they are powerless to protect themselves and they need a champion. George was that,” said John Lipscomb, producer of the “Rage Over Trees” documentary.

Before the most imminent evacuation orders were placed for towns up Santiam Canyon in Marion County, Riley O’Connor was trying to convince his neighbor Atiyeh to come down from his home atop the Opal Creek Wilderness.

“He sounded pretty comfortable in his place. He mentioned that he thought the wind might change and he’d be okay.” O’Connor said.

Atiyeh’s home is far up a rough four-wheel-drive road, O’Connor said. It was the last time he talked to Atiyeh and came just before the fire’s rampant spread through the mountain forests in the area.

“I insisted he should probably go visit his daughter or come down the hill at least,” O’Connor recalls, “Come see us and be a part of the community and get out of there.”

O’Connor said he’s been sick over Atiyeh being missing.

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