By Andy Kerr
In Oregon's Coast Range the moist marine air
and fertile soil have combined to produce the
fastest growing conifers in the world. These
mountains are rich with Douglas-fir, Sitka
spruce, and western red cedar. Non-conifers such
as red alder, bigleaf maple, and Oregon white oak
also thrive here.
The timber industry has long recognized this
region's wealth: it now owns about half the Coast
Range. The rest is controlled by the Forest
Service or the Bureau of Land Management.
Regardless of ownership, the forests have been
extensively logged. The private land is now
mostly bare, the public's land is scarred with
The untouched areas remain so not because of
their outstanding natural values, but because of
their unsuitability for timber exploitation. The
slopes are steep, the soils unstable, and the
more accessible trees often of relatively little
value as timber. But as our supply of prime
timberland dwindles and the value of timber
climbs, the loggers turn their attention
increasingly to these less attractive areas.
The timber companies are most interested in
logging the small amounts of old growth that
remains in the Coast Range. Here, old-growth
forest is generally defined as stands of trees
that are more than 200 years old, with large
diameter trunks and upper limbs, scaly bark, and
broken tops. These trees are particularly
valuable as timber: each tree may yield as much
as 5,000 board-feet of timber (one board-foot
equals 1"x1"x12") and be worth
more than $3,000.
Old-growth forest not only has a special
grandeur, it is also important wildlife habitat.
The northern spotted owl, a reclusive bird, needs
trees with broken tops and sturdy upper limbs to
support its nest. The two-story canopy (old
growth overstory and young growth understory)
provides habitat for the northern flying squirrel
and the red tree vole, on which the spotted owl
feeds. These animals won't be able to adapt to
the young Douglas-fir monoculture plantations now
taking over the Coast Range. If present cutting
and reforestation trends continue, the spotted
owl will soon have to be classified as an
Anadromous fishthose that are born in
fresh water, live in the ocean, and return to
their birthplace to spawnare in serious
trouble because of poor logging practices. Every
year, the salmon return from the ocean, each
trying to return to its place of birth to spawn.
Rivers through logged areas pose often
insurmountable problems for the returning fish.
The river may be too muddy for the fish to see
their way. As they approach their birthplace of
two to six years earlier, they might encounter
logging debris blocking the stream. If they do
reach their birthplace, the gravel on the stream
bottom in which they lay their eggs may be
covered with silt from clearcut hillsides. The
silt will suffocate the eggs. Logging may have
changed the stream characteristics such that the
gravels in which they were hatched are now
scoured away by higher velocity water.
Furthermore, removing trees along the shade
corridor of streams raises the water's
temperature, increasing the fish's susceptibility
These problems can sometimes be mitigated by
proper logging techniques, but they cannot be
eliminated. Partial solutions are not enough
here. If we are to preserve the remaining fish
runs of the Coast Range, its last wilderness and
wild rivers must be preserved. The spotted owl
and many other creatures which inhabit the
old-growth forest will survive only as long as we
preserve enough forest to support them.
Six wild areas remain in Oregon's Coast Range.
Drift Creek Wilderness (proposed
The best example of what the interior Coast
Range forest used to look like. Towering
Douglas-fir and western hemlock abound, with
occasional giant Sitka spruce and red cedar.
Georgia-Pacific has clear cut several square
miles upstream from the wilderness area, but the
salmon still run Drift Creek, shaded by huge
Mount Hebo Wilderness (proposed
This area surrounds the second highest point
in the Coast Range. The area was burned at the
turn of the century and not a stick of old growth
remains. A vast stand of alder and mixed conifers
has taken the place of the original forest. Alder
is often the successional species following a
fire since it does well in disturbed areas.
Windy Peak Wilderness (proposed
This proposal contains the watersheds of
Raleigh Creek and Bear Creek, habitat for bears,
eagles, deer, elk, woodpeckers, hawks, and
Coast Creeks Wilderness
(proposed 15,929 acres)
This area includes the last undeveloped
coastal streams in Oregon. Cummins, Little
Cummins, Bob, and Rock Creeks begin about six
miles inland and then rush to the sea. They pass
under US Highway 101 just before they spill into
the sea, but are otherwise pristine. Coast Creeks
is the home of many species of wildlife,
including the Roosevelt elk. Large Sitka spruce
are common in the lower stretches, giving way to
alder and Douglas-fir as the land rises.
Wassen Creek Wilderness
(proposed 21,000 acres)
This country is incredibly steep and the trees
get pretty big. There is a spectacular falls
downstream from Wassen Lake, Devils Staircase,
but very few have seen it.
Oregon Dunes Wilderness
(proposed 32,000 acres)
Oregon's coast offers a unique opportunity to
include oceanside sand dunes in the wilderness
system. Ocean, sand, wind, and forest blend
beautifully here. The snowy plover nests on the
beach, but off-road vehicles are contributing to
a decline in the bird's population.
Conservationists have drafted the Oregon Coast
Range Wilderness Act and have asked members of
the Oregon delegation to introduce the bill in
Congress. Les AuCoin, whose district contains
most of the Oregon Coast Range, is reluctant to
introduce the Act. He feels these areas
"really don't have wilderness
characteristics." This is not spectacular
alpine terrain, but it is our most threatened
type of wilderness: low elevation forest.
Kerr, Andy. 1980. Last Stand for Oregon's
Coast Range. Not Man Apart. Vol. 10, No.
1. January. 7.