Oregon's Big Outside


Oregon Wild: Endangered Forest Wilderness . Kerr, A. 2005 . Oregon Natural Resources Council , Portland , OR . 255 pp . ( xvii + 238 ). $29.95 (paperback) . ISBN 0-9624877-8-3 .

The Wilderness Act of 1964 established a procedure for the U.S. Congress to permanently protect roadless areas, and it founded the National Wilderness Preservation System, with 54 designated wilderness areas totaling 3.68 million ha in 13 states. Today there are over 42.9 million ha of designated wilderness in 678 areas located in every state except Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, and Rhode Island.

In 1989, 25 years after passage of the Wilderness Act, Foreman and Wolke's (1989) book The Big Outside described, and advocated protection of, every roadless area larger than 40,468 ha (100,000 acres) in the western contiguous United States and 20,234 ha (50,000 acres) in the east. They described 18 such areas in Oregon, including several in the high desert of southeastern Oregon. Andy Kerr's Oregon Wild: Endangered Forest Wilderness takes The Big Outside a step further by describing and mapping roadless forest areas larger than 404 ha (1000 acres) in Oregon. According to Kerr, over 930,000 ha have been designated as Wilderness in Oregon, but another 2 million hectares of unprotected publicly owned roadless forest remain. Oregon Wild presents wilderness proposals for most of those forests.

The introduction by Kathleen Dean Moore, Professor of Philosophy at Oregon State University, explores the value of wilderness in the modern world. Kerr's first chapter describes the forested regions of the state and the animals and plants that live in them, including four medium-sized carnivores that are in decline in Oregon (lynx [Lynx canadensis], marten [Martes americana], fisher [Martes pennanti], and wolverine [Gulo gulo]); two large carnivores extirpated from the state (wolf [Canis lupus] in 1946 and grizzly bear [Ursus arctos] in 1931) that might be reintroduced; the six anadromous salmon and trout species that spawn in Oregon waters; “featured species” whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis), quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), and western larch (Larix occidentalis) (one page for each); and even a “a maybe mammal,” Bigfoot (also called Sasquatch [Gigantopithecus canadensis]) (a couple of paragraphs). Kerr has not let the urgency of his subject prevent him from sprinkling humor through his book.

Chapter 2 is an “unnatural history” of Oregon forest destruction by logging (the first sawmill in Oregon was built in 1843), road building, grazing, fire suppression, and other human disturbances. These five threats are among his “top dozen threats to Oregon's forest wilderness.” Chapter 3 is a political history of the battles for Oregon Wilderness protection, which at 3.6% of the state is a smaller proportion than in the neighboring states of California (13%), Washington (10%), or Idaho (8%). Chapter 4 articulates a dozen arguments for protecting more forest wilderness in Oregon, even areas as small as 404 ha, including biodiversity conservation, recreational opportunities, the value of ecosystem goods and services such as clean water, and leaving a legacy for future generations. Kerr also offers refutations of several arguments (primarily economic) against wilderness protection.

The heart of Oregon Wild are chapters describing 32 new wilderness areas proposed by the Oregon Wild Forest Coalition to add to the current 37 designated wilderness areas in the state's five forested level III ecoregions: the Coast Range (“Home to Oregon's Rainforests”), Klamath Mountains (“World-Class Biodiversity”), Cascades (“Young Volcanoes and Old Forests”), East Cascades (“Dry Open Forests”), and Blue Mountains (“Neither Cascades nor Rockies but with Attributes of Both”). Natural history information, photos, maps, and detailed descriptions of selected units within each proposed new Wilderness area are included. This section of the book could serve as a guide to wilderness lovers wishing to visit unprotected wild forests in the state, perhaps before it is too late; Kerr directs us to hiking trail information for each area.

Although the wildlands along the Cascade crest, a mix of designated and proposed wilderness, form a nearly continuous tract from the Columbia Gorge to the southern Cascades, much of the other proposed wilderness constitutes an “archipelago” of smaller patches that are certainly important but may be too small to maintain their old forest communities in the face of natural disturbance or to sustain viable populations of area-dependent species such as carnivores. Kerr emphasizes that the goal of the Oregon Wild Forest Coalition is to protect forest wilderness “not in isolation, but as part of a conservation and restoration framework that extends throughout the state beyond the borders of the individual Wilderness areas,” a framework designed according to the “cores, corridors, and carnivores” model. If wolverines and other mesocarnivores are to survive in Oregon, and wolves and grizzly bears are to be reintroduced here, a network is more likely to foster their survival than an archipelago. An important next step for the coalition would be to identify areas suitable for connecting these isolated patches of old forest.

Oregon Wild is well illustrated with 168 beautiful photographs by several accomplished photographers and 40 maps produced by Erik Fernandez of Oregon Natural Resources Council. However, the book was admittedly written for a lay audience, and literature citations are rather sparse. The many useful appendices cover current wilderness and other protected areas in Oregon; what to do to help protect wild forests; enjoying Oregon's unprotected forest wilderness; selected Web sites; and, recommended readings in ecology, conservation biology, natural history, political and social history, wilderness, and wilderness activism.

If you prefer apolitical natural history books, Oregon Wild may not be a good choice for you. Beautiful and informative, it is also a “campaign book” for wilderness protection in Oregon. Like Foreman and Wolke, Kerr does not mince words about the need to counter the efforts to degrade wild forests made by “timber beasts, cattle barons, mining conglomerates, land developers, unenlightened (and sometimes venal) bureaucrats and motorheads who have forgotten how to walk.” He urges his readers to do something to protect Oregon's threatened wilderness, including contacting elected officials, donating time and money to wilderness conservation organizations, and encouraging friends and family to do the same. Much of the work to establish designated Wilderness happens at the state level, and a book like Oregon Wild would be a useful organizing tool for wilderness advocates in any state, and perhaps elsewhere in the world.