One-person lobby group works the system


Mike Houck

Personal: 55, urban naturalist

Home: Northwest Portland

Group: Audubon Society of Portland,

Big influences: Environmentalist Brock Evans; William Finley, Portland Audubon's first president.

Favorite quote: 'Endless pressure, endlessly applied.'

Ñ Brock Evans, on effective advocacy

Annual budget: $1.8 million

Notable funders: Meyer Memorial Trust, city of Portland, Metro

Critics say: Might as well work for Metro or the city, he's such an insider

Members: 9,600

Endless pressure, endlessly applied.'

The mantra that follows each new

e-mail from Mike Houck says it all.

Whether he's addressing the Portland Development Commission or the Japanese Garden Society, writing yet another letter to the editor, leading a bicycle tour along the Willamette River or a kayak trip to Ross Island, Houck's message is consistent: 'In livable cities is the preservation of the wild.'

His style also is consistent Ñ and endless.

For more than 20 years Houck, the urban naturalist for the Audubon Society of Portland, has been tweaking the political process to make Portland greener. As a writer, he is as prolific as a court reporter. He sits on eight separate committees and subcommittees. The book he co-edited, a guide to the Portland area's natural areas called 'Wild in the City,' sold out its first 5,000 copies in three months.

'He's a one-person environmental lobby,' says city Commissioner Erik Sten.

Indoors, Houck homes in on minute details within unwieldy technical documents. Outdoors, he is more easily distracted, often interrupting himself and others with calls of 'Sapsucker!' 'Pileated!' or 'Hermit thrush!' followed by a whistled rendition of the bird's song.

Few will question Houck's success. But his opponents, such as Bennett Langlotz of the United We Stand foundation, a group opposed to the city's Healthy Streams Initiative, call Houck a mouthpiece for Metro and the city, both of which gave Portland Audubon more than $10,000 last year.

Houck says he's proud of his role in developing government programs such as Metro's Open Space Acquisitions. That effort began in 1989 with a grant to Houck's program from the Meyer Memorial Trust. Six years later voters approved a $138 million bond measure, and that money has since bought more than 7,700 acres of parks and open spaces in and around Portland.

'My goal is to have the region Ñ in reality, not just in theory Ñ integrate the natural and the built environments,' he says. 'That's the bottom line.'