Oregon Forests Since 1630
Long before the first humans ranged through Oregon, its forests evolved in a relentless trajectory of change. Lightning fires, earthquakes and disease were among the natural events shaping landscapes. Once humans entered this drama, a new force of nature was added.
“All the [Columbia river] Indians set fire to the forests periodically... It makes the trees grow better; it makes the grass grow better... We knew how to use wood too. White people said our canoes were the best in the world.”
All of our forests have been impacted by human influences. Over the last 400 years, about 8% of Oregon's forestland has been converted to agriculture, developments and utility corridors – compared to nearly 30% nationwide. Researchers estimate that before European settlement 40-70% of the Northwest's forests were over 200 years old – "old growth." Harvesting timber has reduced that figure to less than 10% today, and most old growth is on federal lands.
One concrete way of understanding human impacts is to consider the change in the average diameter of a harvested log from pre-European times until now.