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Earn a passing grade by becoming acquainted with our forest environment

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By BEN OLSON/For the Herald—Today, I’ll be talking about history. Being a flatlander from the Midwest, I had to learn my local and regional history to get out of school with passable grades here in the Pacific Northwest.

Back in my home state of Wisconsin, we once had an endless supply of big trees to cut into lumber. All of those old-growth trees were cut by the 1890s.

Today, I live in the Willamette National Forest. It’s a veritable island in the midst of almost 1.7 million acres of federal land of which 370,000 acres are designated as wilderness. The forest stretches 100 miles north to south along the western slope of the Cascades. It goes from Mount Jefferson, east of Salem, in the north to the Calapooya Ridge, which separates the drainages of the Willamette and Umpqua Rivers.

Willamette national Forest by the numbers

Sixty-one per cent of the forest is located in Lane County with significant sections in Linn, Marion and Douglas counties. There are smaller tracts in Clackamas and Jefferson counties.

There are seven major peaks in the national forest. Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, Three Finger Jack, Diamond Peak and the North, Middle and South Sisters lie within the Willamette National Forest. The headwaters of the Mackenzie, Willamette Middle Fork and North Fork are also in the forest. The Willamette National Forest ranges from about 1,500 feet above sea level in the west to 10,500 feet to the top of Mount Jefferson.

The forest is home to a dozen coniferous species of trees with the Douglas fir being the most common. Old-growth Douglas firs, which grow to more than 300 feet tall, are among the tallest trees in the world. It is estimated that there are almost 600,000 acres of old growth trees still within the forest. More than 300 species of fish and animals make their home here.  There are more than 1,500 miles of streams and rivers and 375 lakes.

History of the Forest

In September 1893, President Grover Cleveland designated much of the Cascades as part of the Cascade Forest Reserve. Eventually in 1933 the area along the western slopes became the Willamette National Forest. During the last 90 years, different ideas for the best use of the land have been proposed. The post-World War II era signaled spending on dams, campgrounds and opening up the area for more recreation. This era marked a steep decline in mining and grazing activities within the forest.

When timber was king

Of course, logging was always a prime concern for generating revenue. Logging began its decline in the 1970s.  Timber harvesting had been scaled back considerably by 1990, primarily by pressure from environmentalists. This was an era that pitted loggers versus spotted owls.

We are fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, and we should be thankful every day that we have managed to preserve the area as well as we have. We must be ever vigilant to balance the needs of all the people who use this great resource, the Willamette National Forest.


Oakridge musician Ben Olson, entertainment editor and columnist for The Herald, can be reached by email at [email protected]

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