While we may be known now for our artisanal coffee and tech pioneers, the Pacific Northwest was built by the logging industry. Oregon logging has a long history, dating back to before the state was even part of the union. Intrepid entrepreneurs were drawn to the vast forests, looking to make their fortunes off the huge demand for lumber the gold rush had produced.
For most of the state’s history, lumber has been a major export and economic force. As native Oregonians, we are proud to be a part of the tradition of forestry and tree care our home is known for. In honor of the history of our great state, here are a few facts about Oregon logging that you might not have known.
The heavy rain and nutrient-rich soil of the Pacific Northwest make the region an ideal place for forests to thrive. Forests cover more than 30 million of Oregon’s 62 million acres, roughly 50 percent of the state’s entire landmass. Oregon’s most common tree is its state tree, the Douglas fir, but the ponderosa pine is also prevalent.
The majority of the forests are publicly owned, with about 60 percent being managed by the federal government and about 4 percent being managed by state and local government. The rest of the forests are owned by private groups, primarily large corporations who work in Oregon logging. There are still some sections of the forests owned by smaller families or tribal groups, though that acreage is significantly less than what’s held by larger organizations.
Before Oregon logging was as established as it is today, most of the lumber produced in the United States was sourced first from northeastern states and then later the Great Lakes region. When the Hudson’s Bay Company built the first water-powered sawmill in the region in Fort Vancouver, it kicked off the start of a brand-new trade.
As the hinterlands of the Midwest began to thin out, lumber companies began to set their sights on the farther-off forests of British Columbia, Washington, and of course, Oregon.
Charles Axel Smith was one of the first such tycoons to stake his claim, following the example of earlier lumber suppliers and setting up a brand-new mill on Coos Bay in 1908. From that point on, more and more companies began to open their own mills along the Oregon coast.
In the late nineteenth century, the Pacific Northwest lumber industry exploded. Developing technology and newly constructed rail lines allowed lumber to be easily harvested and shipped throughout the country, making the region a center of commerce. While earlier lumber exporters like George Wasson and Asa Mead Simpson had begun the Oregon logging trade in the mid-nineteenth century, Washington state was actually the nation’s top producer for most of that century.
As more mills began opening across the coast and throughout the interior in the early twentieth century, however, Oregon’s production rates climbed higher and higher. Lumber companies started capitalizing on both the region’s available forests and proximity to the ocean, harvesting raw lumber from the state and shipping it by boat to everywhere from California to China.
By 1938, Oregon had finally pulled ahead and become the nation’s top lumber producer, a title the state has maintained until today.
Settlements began popping up all over Oregon following the lumber boom in the early twentieth century, growing into bustling communities dependent on the lumber trade. Today, it’s hard to find a city in Oregon that wasn’t involved in the Oregon logging industry in one way or another in its history.
For example, Bend was one of the most prominent suppliers of ponderosa pine when two lumber firms, Brooks-Scanlon and Shevlin-Hixon, built mills on the Deschutes River in 1916. Medford, Brookings, Hines, Maybeck, and many other towns can trace their foundations back to timber production.
Even Portland has its roots in the lumber industry; although, as a major port town, the city was more involved in the more commercial aspects of the industry. There’s a reason the town nicknamed Stumptown is home to the Portland Timbers! In one way or another, everyone was involved.
With so much invested personally and financially in the state forests, it’s no surprise that Oregonians are concerned with their conservation. Knowing how important trees were to the state’s livelihood, Oregon was the very first state to write legislation specifically governing the harvesting of lumber.
The Oregon Forest Practices Act, enacted in 1971, set the standard for all commercial activities involving Oregon’s forests. The laws cover management, harvesting, reforestation, all falling under the purview of the state Board of Forestry. The Board works with companies and individuals to ensure that all parties are compliant with the Forest Practices Act, helping maintain and preserve all the woodlands in the state.
Logging doesn’t play as large a role in the diverse modern Oregon economy as it did in the mid-twentieth century, but the forest industry still employs a portion of the population.
According to a study from 2017, roughly 60,000 Oregonians still work in the forest industry in some capacity. The majority of those people are employed private logging companies assisting in the harvest and creation of lumber and other wood products. The rest are employed in other forest support or management capacities, most of which are found in the Oregon government.
While the total number of people working in forestry only comes to about 3 percent of the Oregon workforce, these jobs are still extremely important to more rural areas of the state.
Feeling inspired to be a part of the Oregon forestry tradition? We’re here to help. Whatever you need to help care for your own little corner of the forest, Mr. Tree is well equipped to meet all your arboreal needs. Whether you need major work done or just an expert opinion, feel free to give us a call.