History of The Willamette National Forest


The Willamette National Forest is and has always been a very important unit of the Pacific Northwest Region of the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. The prominence of the forest in the history of the Pacific Northwest Region has been well documented by Larry and Mary Rakestraw, who volunteered to research and write a history of the Willamette. It is hoped that this history will serve to inform the Forest Service personnel who manage the forest and the public of the interesting early history of the Willamette National Forest.

This book, the result of several years of intensive research and writing about the Willamette, records the establishment, area and name changes, development, and administration encompassing almost 100 years of Federal management. This history will also serve to refresh the memory of the public of the circumstances leading to the current management of the forest. It is also designed to inform the public readers, and forest employees, of the rich history behind the national forest conservation movement in the late 1800s, as well as the efforts of the Willamette managers to develop and utilize the natural resources present for the benefit of the people and communities of Oregon and the United States.

It has been my privilege to have worked on the forest in a variety of capacities over the past four decades and as Forest Supervisor in the 1980s. During all these years the forest has often been at the forefront in national forest management, with forest employees providing many new and innovative ideas.

In the past, employees of the Cascade and Santiam National Forests, the immediate predecessors to the Willamette National Forest, formed the basis for some of the first practical management of any national forest. Whether it has been recreation developments, fire control procedures, timber harvest methods (including the testing of some of the first chain saws), road construction techniques, and researching the basic relationships in the old-growth ecosystem, the Willamette has been a leader.

Since the end of World War II, the Willamette National Forest has been widely recognized as the top timber producing national forest in the United States. Most of the timber sold by the forest is processed in counties adjacent to the Forest. Many communities and individuals are dependent on these timber resources for their livelihood. Water from the major river systems, North Santiam, South Santiam, McKenzie, and Willamette Rivers, provides drinking water for rural communities and nearly 205,000 metropolitan users in the Willamette Valley. Over 25 percent of Oregon's population lives in the adjacent counties: Lane, Linn, Marion, Benton, and Polk counties. The populations of these counties have doubled since 1960, placing an increased pressure on the Willamette to provide for increasing public use. Recreation visitors to the Willamette can enjoy pristine wildernesses, several downhill and cross-country ski areas, many picnic and campgrounds, as well as numerous opportunities for hunting, fishing, and boating.

The Willamette is currently embroiled in debates over the proper use of the national forests. There are many contending sides and each group believes it has the best answer for the future management of the forest. There will never be total agreement, but there are many opportunities for people to influence decisions from the project level to the forest level planning effort.

I am proud to say that the Willamette has a rich diversity of employees that really care about the future of the forest. With around 1,000 employees, making it the largest single unit in the Forest Service, the Willamette National Forest employees range in specialization from archaeologist to warehouse worker.

The hope for the future is that the Willamette National Forest will continue to show the leadership and innovation that has made it famous. With the growing population in the Willamette Valley and the continuing need for wood products, recreation developments, wilderness experiences, and many forest resources, the forest will have to create opportunities for future visitors, as well as provide the basic necessities for those dependent on the forest for their livelihood.

As shown by the current controversies regarding the spotted owl, old-growth (ancient forest), and forest planning, there is much that needs to be done to address the concerns of citizens surrounding and using the forest. Decisions about the future management of the national forests nation-wide may well be resolved on the Willamette. This will put a tremendous responsibility on the future managers of the forest, but if the past is any predictor of the future, then the Willamette National Forest will show the way. I expect that the Willamette will be an even better place for people to work with even greater stewardship of the land and resources. I also believe that people who live near or use the resources of the Willamette will share the common ground of their national forest.

Forest Supervisor
Willamette National Forest

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Last Updated: 08-Dec-2008