Why is Conservation Important?
The majestic snowcapped peaks of the Cascade Mountains represent the crown jewels of the State of Oregon. The Cascades, transecting the state from north to south at elevations in excess of 11,000 feet above sea level, results in areas with strikingly different climates. West of the Cascades, a mild, moist marine climate prevails, while east of the Cascades, Oregon’s high desert country alternates between scorching hot in the summer to bitterly cold in the winter. Between the Cascades and the coast, the Coast Range defines the fertile farmland of the Willamette Valley from the marine coastal area. Annual precipitation ranges from in excess of 100 inches in the north coast region, to less than 12 inches in the eastern two-thirds of the state. The majority of precipitation occurs during the winter months. Even in the wetter areas of the state, summers are usually dry.
Oregon has a total land area of 61.4 million acres, of which 53 percent is owned and managed by the federal government, mainly under the control of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Another 3 percent is owned by state and local governments.
Nearly half of Oregon is forested, of which about 40 percent is privately owned. Although the majority of private forest is comprised of large industrial holdings, non-industrial forest landowners are providing an increasing percentage of the state’s timber production.
Agriculture is a leading Oregon industry, with 1995–96 farm and ranch sales of $3.4 billion. Oregon leads the nation in the production of Christmas trees, grass seed, hazelnuts, peppermint, and a variety of caneberry crops. Other crops, such as hops, strawberries, prunes, plums, onions, cauliflower, pears and nursery stock, play an important role in Oregon’s economy.
Oregon has several distinct agricultural regions:
- The Willamette Valley is the most diversified, with over 200 specialty crops.
- Tree fruits, potatoes and livestock dominate Southern Oregon’s agricultural industry west of the Cascades.
- Commercial fishing and dairy farms are abundant on the Oregon Coast.
- Malheur County, adjacent to Idaho, produces seed crops, onions, potatoes, sugar beets, and other specialty crops.
- Livestock and hay production are the dominant agricultural enterprises in Harney and Lake Counties in Southeastern Oregon.
- Jefferson County and other Central Oregon areas grow a wide range of crops, including vegetable seeds, peppermint, and small grains in addition to pasture and hay production.
- North Central Oregon east of the Cascades along the Columbia River Gorge predominantly produces small grains.
- Crops in Klamath County include small grains, sugar beets, potatoes, pasture and hay.
Livestock grazing is a dominant land use throughout Oregon.
Oregon’s water resources are fundamental to all of the state’s ecosystems and industries. Water is at the center of much of the scenic and recreational values that attract both visitors and residents alike. Oregon has 112,000 miles of rivers and streams and over 6,000 lakes and reservoirs. The state’s largest river, the Willamette River, has more runoff per square mile than any other major river in the United States.