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October 2005

Last Chance Adventure: Oregon’s Umpqua National Forest

Can you see the forest through the trees? Join a bittersweet trek through an old-growth wilderness in its final days.

This area goes by many names: the Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion, the Klamath Knot, the State of Jefferson (after a local secession movement popularized in 1941), and, of course, Bigfoot Country. Zane Grey, who erected a still-standing cabin along the Rogue, called it “a mountain stronghold such as I had never before looked into…the ragged country of sharp peaks, black timbered ridges, green range on range, blue canyons, staggered me with its wildness and vastness.”

As we descended deeper into the notch cut by the creek, though, the sensation was one of intimacy rather than immensity. We walked through silent galleries of giant conifers–there are more varieties here than anywhere on Earth–marveling at the array of green, beige, purple, and magenta bark, much of which was covered by fuzzy pale-green lichen drooping from trees like tufts of Santa’s beard.

Until the 1970s, forestry instructors described old-growth areas like this as “wastelands,” due to the messy understory and abundance of dead snags. Now, biologists know that these forests are among our most biologically rich environments, essential habitats for a host of threatened species, including the northern spotted owl and the marbled murrelet. For these and many other animals, the Klamath-Siskiyou region is a key migration corridor, its east-west mountain chain connecting the Cascades and the Coastal Range.

This area has been discussed as a designated wilderness area, a national monument, even a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. But the BLM, which administers it, has other plans; the agency recently proposed that the ancient, roadless forest on both sides of the river be logged. North of the river, trees have already been marked for cutting in the Kelsey Whisky timber sale, which includes 513 acres of old-growth.

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