Jerry Gorsline, naturalist, conservationist, historian, writer, and inspiration to generations who shared his passion for the natural world, died at his Discovery Bay home on March 29, 2021 of pulmonary fibrosis. He was 80.
Born and raised in the East, Jerry found his true home on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula where he made lasting contributions to conservation, literature, and the area’s natural and human history. Jerry was a meticulous researcher and became self-educated in a number of disciplines. A natural teacher, he was gracious and generous with his knowledge. He wrote and edited several books. Through his associations with the Washington Native Plant Society, Jefferson County Historical Society, and other organizations, he shared his expertise in fields of botany, forest ecology, and Native American and Northwest history. He led countless field trips. He was a mentor to peninsula writers and environmentalists. Friends and colleagues described him as inspirational.
Jerry was pivotal in environmental campaigns that preserved wilderness areas and several unique botanical areas in Olympic National Forest. He led efforts to protect Kah Tai Prairie, a remnant native prairie in Port Townsend, Devil’s Lake wetland near Quilcene, and Lilliwaup Swamp near Hoodsport. Jerry helped establish several worker-owned cooperatives on the peninsula including Olympic Reforestation, the Salal Café, and Empty Bowl, a literary press. Throughout his life, Jerry’s dedication to community, his passion for poetry and the arts, and his delight in the beauty and complexity of the natural world were infectious.
Autumn Scott, a long-time colleague of Jerry’s in the Native Plant Society reflected, “Jerry was one of the most brilliant people I’ve known, yet he showed such warmth and generosity toward others. There was no one quite like him.”
Jeremiah Evarts Gorsline was born April 20, 1940 in Greenwich Village to artist and illustrator Douglas Gorsline and Elizabeth Perkins Gorsline, daughter of famed Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins who published F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Zora Neale Hurston, and Thomas Wolfe. Jerry was the younger of two boys. After high school, in 1958, he hitchhiked to California and settled in Big Sur, a gathering place for bohemians, artists, and writers. He met his first wife, Sylvia Bennett, there; they had two children, a daughter, Rosalind, and a son, Evan.
Throughout the ‘60s, Jerry moved around the West Coast and lived briefly in Italy and France. He founded Northtown Books in Arcata, Calif. and was active in the San Francisco-based Planet Drum Foundation, an early bioregional group that strove to reconnect human cultures to ecological regions. In the early 1970s while living on Washington’s Fidalgo Island, Jerry and Freeman House wrote “North Pacific Rim Alive,” a Planet Drum publication that presented a long-term vision for living sustainably with wild salmon, natural forests, rivers, farms, and seacoasts. Revolutionary for its time, it inspired a number of Northwest writers, artists and activists including wild salmon advocate Tom Jay.
Jerry settled with his family on the Olympic Peninsula in 1974, where he became a mentor to fellow writers and conservationists. He worked on cooperative crews planting trees and surveying forests and he immersed himself in environmental work. Inspired by botanist Nelsa Buckingham, Jerry became a guiding light for the Olympic chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society. His legacy lives on in the many natural areas he helped protect.
In 1990 he went to work for the Washington Environmental Council (WEC) as a Timber Fish and Wildlife forester. He worked with state, industry and tribal representatives to seek workable timber management compromises that protected streams and fish. Jerry brought sound science to the negotiations and earned respect from all sides. He later became a habitat policy associate for WEC and worked on statewide conservation issues, including shoreline protection rules and critical area protections. He retired in 2005, but his work on behalf of the earth and its community of life continued.
Among Jerry’s books are: “Shadows of Our Ancestors: Readings in the History of Klallam-White Relations,” “Rainshadow: Archibald Menzies and the Botanical Exploration of the Olympic Peninsula,” and “Working the Woods, Working the Sea: An Anthology of Northwest Writings” co-edited with Finn Wilcox.
In 1983, he met his wife Beth while working at the Salal Café in Port Townsend. They were later married and enjoyed nearly four decades together. Jerry is survived by his wife Beth Mac Barron of Port Townsend; daughter Rosalind Yoakum of Coalville, Utah; brother John and sister-in-law Deborah Gorsline of Lexington, Mass.; and niece Sarah Gorsline of Bolinas, Calif. Jerry’s son Evan Douglas Gorsline preceded him in death in 2012.
No service is planned. Donations in Jerry’s memory may be made to the Jefferson Land Trust, saveland.org.