From the crest of the Cascades eastward, Oregon's "eastside" offers some of our most stunning landscapes. Spectacular scenery, recreation, fishing, rafting, and hunting await anyone intrepid enough to travel to or live in the drier side of the state – from Hells Canyon in the northeast, to the Steens and Strawberry Mountains in the southeast, and the Ochocos and John Day Basin in between.
Eastern Oregon is a haven for many types of wildlife like bighorn sheep, pronghorn, Canada lynx and wolves, salmon and trout, sage grouse and migratory birds. They depend on undeveloped wild lands, clean free-flowing streams, and diverse forests.
From gnarled lava-dwelling pines to lush streamside cottonwoods, the forests of eastern Oregon are diverse and beautiful. Old-growth ponderosa pine in savanna-like settings; wetter mixed conifer forests with spruce, fir, pine, Douglas-fir, and larch; vast landscapes of high desert with scattered juniper trees; and stands of glistening aspen with bright white bark are all important components of healthy eastside forest.
In need of restoration
National Forests in eastern Oregon have been seriously altered over the past century and a half. Fire historically played a large role in shaping eastside forest ecology, but natural fire regimes have been altered by human fire suppression and livestock introduction. This has led to changes in the types and amounts of different vegetation, threatening the health of old-growth forests. Livestock grazing across eastern Oregon has had major impacts to recreation, streams, and natural vegetation.
Logging has left thousands of acres of unnaturally dense young plantations (much like on the Westside) in the place of old-growth forests, and selective logging of the oldest trees has changed the natural dynamic of these diverse forests. Thousands of miles of roads have been built for logging – allowing weeds to spread, polluting waterways, and allowing illegal access into the public forestlands. A lack of fire has lead to fewer and fewer stands of quaking aspen.
More than a century of intensive grazing, fire suppression, and industrial logging have left some eastside landscapes in desperate need of restoration. Some forests on the other hand simply need to be left alone. Restoration activities could include reducing fuels around homes and communities, thinning out small trees that have grown in since natural fires last burned and are now posing a threat to old-growth trees, and using prescribed fire to restore a more natural cycle. Watershed restoration activities like removing unneeded roads and improving streamside vegetation for the benefit of fish are also needed.
Such restoration activities can help develop new restoration-based businesses and jobs and provide traditional wood products that sustain local communities.
Be wary though as every management project the Forest Service proposes these days is called "restoration" and includes "thinning". It may well be true restoration as described above or it may be the kind of thinning that leaves only one tree per acre.
A great deal of common ground towards this end has been laid in eastern Oregon forests. Oregon Wild staff have been working in collaboration with the Forest Service and community stakeholders to help promote restoration projects and support communities in several areas. Ultimately congress needs to pass a new management paradigm for eastern Oregon’s forests that protects mature and old-growth forests while restoring those that have been degraded by logging, mining, and other development.
- Watch OPB's Oregon Field Guide story on finding common ground around forest thinning.
- Explore Oregon Wild's take on restoration of dry forests in our handbook: "Restoring Eastern Oregon's Dry Forests: A practical guide for ecological restoration."