Thursday, May 9, 2013

Washington Vs. Oregon and BLM Lands

Washington and Oregon are very strongly linked historically as both were once part of the Oregon Country and later the Oregon Territory. We share a number of other characteristics: the Pacific Ocean on our coast, the Cascade Range dividing the states into a dry east half and a wet west half, a western low land with population centers, cloudy wet winters on the west side and icy cold winters on the east.
But there are some big differences. Eastern Oregon, with the exception of the northern Umatilla Basin, is mostly high plateau country with scattered high ranges while eastern Washington has the large Columbia Basin and massive irrigated land areas and the rich dry land farming of the Palouse. Eastern Washington was and is overall a much richer farm landscape and as such was much more heavily settled via homesteads and settlers buying railroad land grants.
That settlement legacy has also greatly influenced land management at the federal level. There is a lot more Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in Oregon than Washington. The Oregon/Washington BLM district maps are telling. Washington has one district. Oregon has nine. 
District Map
BLM Districts in Oregon and Washington
BLM lands in Washington State are bright yellow.
BLM manages approximately 450,000 acres in Washington State. The vast majority is in eastern Washington with the remaining a scattered set of rocks, headlands and islands in the San Juan Islands area of northwest Washington. The San Juan BLM lands were recently designated a National Monument san-juan-islands-national-monument-map.
By comparison the BLM Lakeview District in Oregon alone manages 3.5 million acres.
Lakeview Detailed District Map
BLM Lakeview District, BLM land is yellow
Given the high scrub steppe of eastern Oregon, it is not surprising that there is so much more federal public land in eastern Oregon than in Washington, but the same applies to western Oregon as well. Note in the above Oregon/Washington map there are 5 BLM districts in western Oregon. The majority of these lands are timber lands, but there is also valley bottom lands.
Eugene Detailed District Map
BLM Eugene District
The story of how these lands ended up in BLM management is described The short story is these were railroad land grant lands that the federal government took back (revested). This did not happen in Washington State (there are a few that ague it should have). The vast railroad land grants have and sill greatly influence forest policy, economics and politics. In Washington the privately held land grant forests still influence politics and forest policy.

1 comment:

Geoffrey Middaugh said...

Great article, Dan. You've picked up on some little known aspects of western Americana and the public domain. Remember, up until 1976, all 400 million acres or so of the public domain was to be "disposed" (including Alaska lands). Then with the passage of FLPMA, that changed. One theory of the lack of "PD" in Washington was that much of eastern WA was "withdrawn" for reclamation projects, Hanford, and military use. I have other theories. The O&C act is a unique piece of law. Check out the current High Country news Seeking Balance in Timber Country at: