Ancient Forests

Location Acres Ecological value Economic Value
Western Oregon 800,000-plus Ancient forests that protect native species, cool rivers and streams and provide clean drinking water Fishing, hiking, hunting and clean water

Starting in the 1960s and continuing for much of the following three decades, the Bureau of Land Management clear cut forests in western Oregon at a rate of more than 50,000 acres a year.[1] Trees grow back, but forests rarely do, and this is especially true of the Pacific Northwest’s rain forests. 

At that time, the idea of sustainable harvest and the ecological impact of poorly designed harvest plans on water, soil, fish and wildlife and the concept that a forest is much more than trees was not a part of the conversation. Today, we understand much more about the integration of forests, wildlife and water leading the modern timber industry and federal land managers to include these issues when planning timber harvests.

Many of the towering giants that remain today, some measuring eight to ten feet in diameter, sprouted to life before Europeans settled Jamestown in 1607. More remarkable, according to the Bureau of Land Management, some trees on O&C lands took root as many as 250 years before Christopher Columbus set sail for the New World. Most of these native forests developed under climate conditions that were very different from those of today: It is simply impossible to re-create these complex landscapes.

Across the Pacific Northwest, less than 10 percent of these ancient forests remain.[2] Some of the best examples of what is left are found in western Oregon on land originally set aside in the 1860s for the Oregon and California railroad. These old-growth forests provide critical habitat for the endangered northern spotted owl and the marbled murrelet seabird. They also filter the rivers, which is essential for providing drinking water and the survival of salmon and steelhead.

In addition to these ecological benefits, Oregon’s ancient forests attract anglers, hikers, and other recreational users, which brings real dollars and jobs to the rural communities of southwestern Oregon. Throughout the state, outdoor recreation contributes more than $12.8 billion annually to the economy and supports more than 141,000 jobs.  Nearly 2 million people in Oregon get their clean drinking water from sources within the O&C landscape—sources that do not require expensive filtration systems, thus saving millions of dollars for local communities. 

Much of the public debate and litigation of the late 1980s and early 1990s over forest management in the Northwest concerned the logging of these ancient trees. Although some of those old disputes have cooled, the fundamental need remains for Congress to safeguard these ancient trees. There are enough O & C lands in Oregon to support sustainable forestry without harvesting our last remaining old growth stands.

[1] Bureau of Land Management, Western Oregon Plan Revisions; Analysis of the Management Situation (October 2005).

[2] Ibid.


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