CORVALLIS - From 1933 through 1951, a series of four major fires struck Oregon's Tillamook Forest, burning 355,000 acres of virgin forest.
Collectively known as the Tillamook Burn, the area became the focus of a massive Oregon reforestation project that was a cooperative effort among foresters, citizens and thousands of school children. Today, the Tillamook State Forest stands as a legacy to a time and effort that promised "timber forever" in a modern era that embraces sustainability and the human relationship to the forest.
The evolution of the Tillamook Forest from its origins, to the fires, to the planting of the burned landscape and beyond is the focus of a new book published by the Oregon State University Press.
"The Tillamook: A Created Forest Comes of Age," was written by Gail Wells, a natural resource communication specialist in OSU's College of Forestry. It tells the story of the great Tillamook fires of the 1930s, '40s and '50s, recounts the huge, cooperative reforestation effort, and discusses the future of the Tillamook Forest.
The forest has become a meeting ground of ecological science, environmental protection and timber economy. In the book, Wells asks the question: What should be done with the new Tillamook Forest? Should it be cut for merchantable timber, or preserved as a memorial to the fires and restoration effort, or should it serve another purpose?
The book is part of the Culture and Environment in the Pacific Northwest series published by the OSU Press. Series editor William L. Lang says Wells' book, and her portrayals of a variety of viewpoints within it, "highlight the intersections between environment and culture in the region."
"Each of the people Wells cameos as emblematic of the range of viewpoints about the potential fate of the Tillamook is portrayed in proximate and personal terms," Lang writes. "These are people who believe strongly in their vision of the Tillamook's future and their articulate explanations expose the vacuity of simplistic proposals about a complex problem."
Wells, the daughter of a sawmill owner and dealer in logs and lumber, grew up in Coos Bay in the heart of timber country. She says the recent conflicts over whether to log the Northwest's small remaining amount of old growth forest was a "defining issue" for the emerging environmental movement, and one that polarized the region.
"It seemed to me, however, that there was less interest generally in young, second-growth forests, of which there were many, the legacy of the heavy logging of the 1940s, '50s, and '60s," Wells wrote. "I began to wonder what would happen to these forests as their trees grew big enough to log. Would there be the same bitter conflict? Or would some consensus emerge?"
Wells' book, "The Tillamook," is available at book stores, libraries or some on-line retailers, or it can be ordered through the OSU Press by calling 1-800-426-3797.