Following the Trail Before Me
Since Oregon Wild’s inception in the 1970s, protecting ancient forests has been a key part of the organization’s work. In 1991, Wendell Wood, one of Oregon Wild’s longest serving staff members and volunteers, published “A Walking Guide to Oregon’s Ancient Forests” to help draw attention to the need to protect our last remaining old-growth forests before it was too late. The original book (featuring more than 200 hikes!) served as a guide to areas across Oregon with accessible old-growth forests, and included information about Oregon Wild’s campaigns to protect these forests.
This little blue book has been indispensible to me since I started working for Oregon Wild back in 2003. Over a decade old and a bit outdated even then, Wendell’s book led me to spectacular groves in places like McGowen Creek near my Eugene home, and to sections of the Upper Middle Fork, Upper Rogue, and McKenzie River Trails I might not have been otherwise turned on to. The “Walking Guide” also added more context and hike alternatives to trails I found in other books, adding a little Wendell “flair” to my excursions when I didn’t have him along to overwhelm me with information (in the best way possible) about the plants, animals, and history of an area.
|Wendell, enjoying the forest bounty|
I’d been thinking for a few years about the need for this well-loved book to be updated - what areas in the book had been protected?, which were still in danger of logging?, what trail conditions had changed? - when Wendell suddenly passed away in 2015. Without Wendell, would it be possible to do the update I felt was needed? I decided I needed to give it a try.
I’m excited to announce that I am embarking on a 6-month sabbatical to work on revising, updating, and republishing Wendell’s book as “A Guide to Oregon’s Ancient Forests.” (Click here to find out about sponsoring this work!)
In the 25 years since the original book was published, so much has changed in Oregon. The state’s population has grown by over one million people since 1990. While our new residents are often driven here by Oregon’s natural beauty, many have little understanding of the environmental history of our state and the sometimes precarious protections for the wild places they have come to love since arriving.
Alongside the demographic changes have come dramatic shifts in the way federal agencies manage our forests and how forest values are perceived. In the almost 25 years since Wendell wrote his book, Oregon Wild has advanced protection for millions of acres of old-growth habitat through Wilderness legislation, through support for policies like the Northwest Forest Plan and the "eastside screens," and through campaigns to secure permanent protection of mature and old-growth forests in the Northwest through federal legislation. Unfortunately, we’ve also seen the attempted erosion of some of these protections by agencies and elected decision-makers There is still much work to be done, and a new edition of the book can help people who care about our ancient forests be better advocates for thier protection and restoration at this critical time.
I’m not going to lie: As fun as it will be to work on this project, it’ll also be hard to step away from my everyday work in Oregon Wild’s Eugene office and throughout western Oregon - holding the Forest Service and BLM accountable to our common sense vision for public forest management, planning events and hikes to engage our local supporters, and strategizing how to ensure our long term goals of protecting and restoring Oregon’s forests and watersheds are accomplished.
Instead, I will be spending the summer hiking as many trails in old-growth forests across the state as my feet can find. I’ll be documenting what I find along the trails and how to get there, taking photos of charasmatic old trees, researching what has changed between 1990 and today throughout the region’s forests, and typing my fingers off.
I won’t be able to do it alone. Like the mycorhyzial network that helps support the ancient trees in a forest, I’ll need support from Oregon Wild and old-growth forest lovers as I put many miles on my car and break down the tread on my boots. I need some gear to get me through, and Oregon Wild needs resources to make sure our plan to get this book out into the hands of Oregonians and other nature lovers can come to fruition.