Rob DiPerna is distinctive. He cuts the part of an environmentalist, with long hair and a penchant for singing Grateful Dead songs in the office. But Rob also likes to don his “monkey suit”—as he calls his suit and tie—and play the part of environmental lobbyist in Sacramento. He can quote Shakespeare, old cartoons from his youth growing up in Upstate New York, and the Forest Practice Rules with equal vigor—all verbatim, and often unprovoked. Because of his big personality, Rob is prone to nicknames—“the Grim Reaper,” for his bleak reports on yet another terrible clearcut; “Rob of the Redwoods,” for his effervescent enthusiasm for Redwood National and State Parks. He is a character and I am proud to call him my friend.
Rob has served two tours of duty at EPIC monitoring private industrial timber management, once in the early 2000s and in his current tenure as EPIC’s Forest and Wildlife Advocate. He serves a Swiss Army Knife role, drafting rulemaking petitions, reviewing dense science, and befriending agency staffers.
Rob came to environmental advocacy almost by accident. Having relocated to Humboldt in 1997, Rob began volunteering with Food Not Bombs, a collective devoted to stamping out hunger through free public meals. The Arcata Food Not Bombs chapter was supporting the civil disobedience of the Headwaters Campaign, feeding EarthFirst! at base camps. Here, Rob met his clan and his calling. The last large block of old-growth redwoods in private hands was under imminent threat; against the logger’s chainsaw, EarthFirst! fought back with art and satire, music and media, and, most famously, civil disobedience.
Rob joined EarthFirst!, participating in some direct action campaigns. He sat in a tree, but couldn’t get used to the swaying. Then he chained himself to a logging road gate, but the logging trucks took a different road. Soon, Rob discovered that his talents were best suited in the legal advocacy side.
Rob’s most notable feature is his brain. Rob has the Forest Practice Rules virtually memorized. Marily Woodhouse, Executive Director of the Battle Creek Alliance, calls Rob her “go-to walking encyclopedia of forest rules and history.” Just today, he gave me a lecture on the origin of the marbled murrelet rules, murrelet survey protocols, and how the rules have changed over time. He is better than Google. Not only does Rob know the Rules, he knows intimately their provenance, owing to the many long car rides with EPIC-advocate Richard Gienger to Sacramento, where they would haunt the Board of Forestry, and through many hours working with Sharon Duggan, EPIC’s Staff Attorney.
In his decade at EPIC, Rob has reviewed hundreds of Timber Harvest Plans—once an arduous process that required him to drive to Fortuna to make photocopies, but today is as easy as opening a link on his laptop. He still haunts the Board of Forestry, much to their dismay. He is detail-driven, and notices the importance of a missing comma or a squishy, vague word where others (like me) don’t. As Alan Levine of the Coast Action Network told me, “Rob knows his stuff and he works.”
When Rob isn’t at the office, he’s in the woods—either walking a quick loop of the Arcata Community Forest or on a long, multi-day hiking excursion. (This summer he is hiking the Washington portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.) He has volunteered at Redwood National and State Parks, where they strap him down with GPS beacons to map trails. He is also a docent at the Headwaters Forest Reserve, one of the places he helped to defend with EPIC and EarthFirst!. He recently began leading commercial guided tours of the redwoods, where his unabiding love of the forest can be shared with tourists from around the globe.
Attorney Nathan Madsen says this of Rob, “I’m grateful to be on the same team as Rob, for as an adversary, he would make slipping one past him a challenging task.” Nathan continues, “He wades through the regulations, related plan submissions, and alphabet soup with determined dedication to the task of holding agencies and forestry operators to the spirit and letter of the law in an effort to make the most of the process we currently have. Rob is a tireless advocate for all things wild and free.” For this, we are all better off. Rob is a true Kin to the Earth.