When I was on the Forest Tour to Sweden and Norway in June 2016, I learned that the Scandinavians are serious about their history as well as their forests.
So it should really come as no surprise that a group from the Swedish Forest History Society would visit Oregon to learn about our Forest History.
Touring from Seattle to San Francisco, the group spent several days in Oregon moving down the lower Columbia to the Coast, then going through the Tillamook State Forest on the way to the Valley.
Along the way they heard about the significant role Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish immigrants played in the development of the region in general and the timber industry in particular. The Scandinavian immigrants were experienced and hardy woods workers and also pioneering business entrepreneurs who left an enduring mark on the region. At Camp 18, railroad and forest historian Ed Kamholz talked about the evolution of logging methods in the US, and they saw some of the equipment involved in hauling very large logs out of the woods. At the Tillamook Forest Center, they learned about the Tillamook Burn, its effect on the environment, communities and forest policy that led to the creation of the State Forest there. They went on to visit the Hanschu’s, family forest landowners in Washington County, the Holiday Christmas Tree farm and a logging operation on Starker Forest land in Benton County to see how things are done today. They also spent a morning at the Hull-Oakes Lumber Co., a unique piece of living history outside Monroe.
An important part of their trip was connecting with local members of the American Forest History Society (FHS). Doug Decker, past director of the Oregon Department of Forestry (the State Forester) and incoming chair of the FHS may have been preaching to a visiting choir when he talked about the importance of history in understanding the present and informing and future. His point was that to understand current policy and management directions, we really need to understand how we got here. History is very interesting in itself, but it also has an important role to play in understanding our current situation and future options. Even while driving forward, it is helpful to keep an eye every once in a while on the rear-view mirror.
This was an important observation to make on their visit to the Tillamook State Forest while large fires burned through the Columbia Gorge and elsewhere across the state. To manage our forests and other natural resources, the public needs some understanding of how we got to where we are (history) as well as the current constraints and limitations as we move forward. The Swedish visitors knew that. It showed in the nature of their questions.
How well do most Oregonians understand that? I’d encourage you not to take our history, or its impact for granted. Why not visit the Tillamook Forest Center this year? It is a great facility and an excellent opportunity to learn about a key event that shaped the forest, our attitudes and policies for generations.