Remembering Bud Clark

By Mike Houck, Bird Alliance of Oregon Urban Naturalist: 1980 to 2019

Bud Clark’s recent passing has resulted in a deluge of personal remembrances from his friends, colleagues, and even sometimes political rivals. All have celebrated his civic pride, no-nonsense leadership as mayor, and above all, joy of life and humor. My favorite memory of Bud was an encounter we had at the downtown Hilton Hotel where he had just given a speech to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in 1986. Clark regaled the audience with exploits of poling his canoe on the backwaters of Scappoose bottoms, where he owned a duck club. He waxed poetic about watching Great Blue Herons coursing across Portland’s skyline, eye level with diners at Atwater’s.  He recounted his repeated heron sightings when he plied the Willamette standing tall in a canoe he towed behind his bicycle. Bud enthused about seeing herons glide by downtown skyscrapers as they cruised between their nesting colony on Ross Island and feeding grounds along the Willamette.   

I knew a “teachable moment” when I heard it! I grabbed him by the arm as he left the hotel and suggested if he admired herons so much why not declare the Great Blue Heron our official city bird? In his inimitable manner he emitted several “Whoop, whoops,” and said, “Hell, why not?” “Go see Lindberg,” referring to City Commissioner Mike Lindberg who was then the commissioner of parks, “and work it out.”  I had known Ethan Seltzer, Lindberg’s staffer, and quickly arranged for him to work with me to co-write a formal proclamation to be read by Clark before City Council. Within a week the Great Blue Heron was designated Portland’s ambassador to the natural world.  

What may sound like a trivial event was in fact an important opportunity to educate the mayor and city council about the importance of nature in the city. In future years I worked with Portland Parks staff and the mayor’s office to write a new proclamation outlining what the city had done in the previous year to ensure herons and other wildlife would continue to share the urban landscape with us as well as they and their bureaus would do in the coming year to protect, restore and manage fish and wildlife habitat. That process led to a collaborative and productive relationship with city staff, the mayor and commissioners that has yielded numerous important conservation measures city-wide.

Bud participated in our annual Ross Island regattas for Great Blue Heron Week. After his term in office he rode on all of the Policy Makers bicycle rides into his late 80s, more recently on his new e-bike. Bud’s tenure ushered in a new era for Bird Alliance of Oregon’s urban conservation program. He will be missed.