The Land Of Opportunity

Compiled by M.D. Wisdom, 1909
Oregon Commission of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition

Forest Wealth Of Oregon 1909
By Edmund P. Sheldon, Secretary Oregon State Board of Forestry.

Beyond question, the greatest natural endowment of Oregon is the unsurpassed wealth stored up in the wonderful forests of the State.

Oregon has approximately three hundred billion feet of standing merchantable timber. This is not an idle guess, but it is the average of the estimate of Government officials, cruisers and timber experts who have traversed the entire State, and made the matter a thorough study. This is a much greater amount than is possessed by any other State in the Union, and is nearly one-sixth of the total amount of standing merchantable timber of the United States. It is noteworthy that this immense amount of timber is found on an area which is only 57 per cent of the area of the State. The value of this body of timber is twofold; first, as a source of lumber supply; second, as a factor in the maintenance of a perpetual flow of water in the streams and rivers of the State, by retarding the melting of the snow and holding a continuous supply of moisture in the ground during the summer months. Oregon forests are also of minor value as a source of fuel supply, and as a source of ornamental trees and shrubs and in the production of medicinal and edible productions useful to mankind. Commercially, the value of the standing timber of Oregon when manufactured into lumber and sold at the rate of $12 per thousand would be $3,600,000,000, a sum in excess of the total amount of currency in the United States at the present time.

The most densely timbered area in the State is west of the Cascade Range. This is due to more humid conditions, favorable to rapid and abundant development of plant life. Thus, we find that 80 per cent of the total stand of timber is found on an area which is 30 per cent of the total area of the State. The average stand of timber on the forested area west of the Cascade Range is 17, 700 feet B.M. per acre. Localities where the stand is 50,000 feet per acre for entire townships are common, as in portions of Clatsop, Tillamook, Polk, and other coast counties. Several sections have been found where 150,000 feet per acre was estimated. Such amounts seem large to the novice, but to the logger who finds many trees scaling 40,000 feet or more of commercial lumber, and who is accustomed to cutting several such trees on an acre, these figures not only seem rational and reasonable, but often are considered too small to place before the public.

Let it be understood that Oregon is not lacking in hardwood. Fully 3 per cent of the merchantable woods of this State is hard. Oregon ash, oak, maple and myrtle are regarded by cabinet-makers and manufacturers as extremely valuable and important.

Turning a moment to a consideration of the principal trees of Oregon, we note that the forests of the State, in common with the entire region west of the Rocky Mountains, are composed largely of coniferous trees. There are about ninety-five species in Oregon which attain to the dignity of trees. Of these thirty-eight are coniferous, seventeen deciduous soft woods and forty hardwoods.


Douglas fir, the most valuable tree of the Pacific Coast, and one of the world's greatest trees, is the dominant species. Whether from the point of view of utility, commercial value, adaptability to climate, age in the world's history, or as a resource needful to civilization in the future, this tree holds a royal position in the vegetable kingdom. It is interesting to know the number of local names in use for this tree. No less than twelve names are in common use. The most popular names in Oregon are yellow fir and red fir. In this connection, it might be well to state that the young growth in open woods produces red fir. The older growth on the same tree, when the forest has become more dense and the growth slower, produces yellow fir. Young forests, if dense, commonly produce yellow fir. Old trees grown in open fertile soil are commonly possessed of plenty of room; hence are covered with branches, and the wood is a poor quality of knotty red fir.

In recent numbers of the Oregon Timberman, accounts were published of notes and measures taken by the writer in an effort to determine the age and rate of growth of the fir trees. It was found that trees of Oregon Douglas fir attained a diameter of eight feet in from 425 to 450 years. Trees 16 to 18 inches in diameter were found to be 40 years of age when grown in comparatively open situations. It has been noted frequently that many places in Western Oregon, which 40 years ago were under cultivation, are now covered with a thick growth of timber, rapidly approaching a size that renders it valuable for commercial purposes.

Fir trees are often found from 300 to 350 feet high. In connection with this it is observed that the upper portion of the tree shows larger annual growths in the center than are found near the butt.

Douglas fir furnishes 80 per cent of the merchantable timber west of the Cascades, and 66 per cent of the total timber of the State. It is extremely valuable for heavy construction, dimension, ties, piling, lumber, lath, flooring, masts, spars, furniture, barrels, railway cars, shipbuilding, veneering, admirably adapted for the manufacture of all agricultural implements, except those requiring great tensile strength. An important industry is bound to develop in the future in the manufacture of turpentine, pyroligneous acid, rosin and other products from the pitchy stumps of this tree. In the United States Government tests of the strength of the principal American woods it has been found that Oregon fir is stronger than oak under a gradual load. The tree grows very straight and of uniform diameter. Shipbuilders have for many years known of the strength and durability of fir; and the sails of commerce of every civilized nation are flung to the breeze from masts and spars of this material. The rafting of fir piling and poles from the Columbia River to San Francisco is one of the successful wonders of Western invention. Immense cigar-shaped rafts have for several years been successfully delivered in San Francisco to replace the teredo-eaten piling of the harbor by the Golden Gate. The teredo in the salt water ports of the Pacific Coast destroys piling in about four years. This does not happen in Portland, the only fresh water port in the Pacific West.


Western Hemlock, that valuable but little appreciated tree, furnishes one of the most beautiful soft finishing woods in existence and constitutes 5 per cent of Oregon timber. It is entirely different from its Eastern congener, being free from the objectionable qualities which have put Eastern hemlock in bad odor. It is the best commercial wood known that will resist the ravages of the Philippine white ant, and hence is valuable for many purposes in the islands.


The giant tideland spruce, Oregon's largest tree, which grows upwards of 20 feet in diameter, furnishes another 5 per cent of the State's available supply of timber. In the extensive coast belt forest which it forms, it is an ideal lumber tree, being free from limbs for a greater part of its height. It is seldom found more than 50 miles inland. The largest tree of this species known to science stands in God's Valley on the North Nehalem River, Clatsop County, Oregon.


Oregon forests contain 14 distinct species of pine. Chief among these is the yellow or white pine of Eastern Oregon. This forms fully 17 per cent of the timber of the State. The famous sugar pine of Southern Oregon forms 3 per cent of the merchantable timber of the State. This and the tideland spruce are now regarded as the best available substitutes for the rapidly disappearing white pine of the Eastern states.


The lumber industry at the present time is one of Oregon's chief sources of revenue. The output of sawed lumber for 1906 was 2,500,000,000 feet, valued at $30,000,000. The output of other forest products such as piling, poles, cordwood, shingles, ties, etc; brought the total value of products given to the world by Oregon's forests in 1906 up to the sum of $60,000,000. While this was the banner year, 1907 and 1908 nearly equal it.

Portland, Oregon, is the largest lumber shipping port in the world. From the docks of this port have been shipped the largest lumber cargoes ever recorded.

The supply of merchantable timber in the Eastern states has been well nigh exhausted, and Oregon, Washington and California are the great sources of supply in the near future.

The United States Government, by its system of patrolling the forest reserves, has prevented much damage, and fully demonstrated the practicability of preventing serious forest fires. The duty of the Government is clearly to protect the property, whether reserved or unreserved, which it holds as its own, with a view of serving the people by preserving timber for their use in future, and by conserving the water supply. On the other hand, the State is duty bound to protect the property of owners, whether resident or non-resident, of timber lands within its boundaries. Not only small tracts, but the boundaries at least of the larger tracts should be patrolled. It seems reasonable that the State should administer tax laws, that the private owners of non-agricultural lands would have the benefit of a system of patrol, especially where such ownership is of public interest. In short, the State should guard the owners' land in return for taxes. The present Oregon forest fire law is an excellent one, and during the past two years has kept a patrol of 300 men to protect the forests of the State. In this way the tremendous destruction of forests in the past has been prevented.

Such State patrol has been successful in Oregon, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Maine. It seems incumbent on Oregon, with this great resource at her command, to take further steps to insure the permanency of these wonderful forests before it is too late. Climate favors the protection of Western Oregon forests during three-fourths of the year, and a system of patrol is not necessary the entire year. The tree months of July, August and September are the critical ones regarding the forest fires in the heavy timbered regions west of the Cascade Range.

From any point of view we consider the forests of Oregon, whether from their magnitude, when out in their seemingly interminable depths, or sober study of reliable estimates of the timber they contain, or from watching the immense logs cut into lumber in the most modern mills in the world, we can only come to the conclusion that if proper measures are enacted to protect the endowment, forests will be a continuous source of wealth in the future, when the world will know and appreciate the resources and strategic importance of the Pacific Coast, which is certainly destined to be the site of the greatest, grandest and most populous civilization on the globe.