Susan Applegate

Susan Applegate

Susan Applegate

Crater Lake is an Oregon icon and our only National Park. The wildlife it supports, the clean water it provides and the amazing outdoor recreational opportunities it offers is unique and deserving of protection. It’s also an economic engine for the region that attracts businesses seeking environmental amenities for their employees.

The Douglas County Commissioners have denounced the Crater Lake Wilderness Proposal as having no civic or social value. They are wrong.

This wilderness proposal enhances protections for the Umpqua River system and its profoundly important fisheries. Sports fishing and river guide services bring money into our area. As study after study has shown, wilderness helps local economies as people increasingly seek out natural wild adventures. Protecting some of this rich diversity of outdoor experiences is prudent.

While a logging project here or there might seem by itself benign, incrementally over time and forest-wide these human designed projects — whether roads, logging projects or rock excavation — accumulate leaving the special places once so loved and admired transformed into something quite different. Wilderness designated areas promise the only changes will be performed by nature, leaving us to witness these natural transformations over time. Wilderness is for people. It is not designed to keep people out, but to invite them in to experience the wild essence of a place.

The need to limit land-altering activities in order to keep what is wild and special has been the impetus behind the establishment of wilderness legislation. Crater Lake sits at the top of the Cascades’ spine. Not far from the National Park bubble up the beginnings of what become the Umpqua, Rogue, Klamath, Deschutes and Willamette River systems. Including these valuable headwater sources in the Crater Lake Wilderness proposal protect the pristine character of the river headwaters and the fish runs they host. If Congressionally designated, Crater Lake National Park would join numerous other National Parks that have their backcountry landscape managed under wilderness status into perpetuity.

The roadless areas included in this proposal, both in and adjacent to the park, are the last vestiges of a wild landscape that once blanketed the southern Cascade mountains. As seen from the air their deeper green, a testimonial to their age, identifies them as separate from industrial clear cut lands.

The thick barked old-growth trees found in the Crater Lake Wilderness Proposal are far more fire resistant than the mono culture kindling plantations stands of trees nearby. The younger, denser, drier, smaller trees tend to feed unnaturally hot fires as was seen in studies of the Douglas Complex Fire several years ago. The argument that all public forests should be thinned or pared back to protect everything from going up in flames, is flawed. When removing the old mature growth trees, the soils and forest ecology are disrupted, if not destroyed. DNA structures from centuries of genetic history within that drainage are gone, leaving replanted trees with weaker genetics unable to withstand extreme weather or insect infections.

One might argue that the roadless areas in the Crater Lake Wilderness Proposal are safe from industrial intrusion and, therefore, don’t need to be in wilderness. In looking at the political history of roadless areas, we see how vulnerable they are. Currently, the Department of Agriculture is deciding whether to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Rule. Removal of safeguards imposed in roadless areas could allow road building, rock mining and logging to occur in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Similarly, Bulldog Rock or Twin Lakes, both Umpqua National Forest Inventoried Roadless Areas included in the Crater Lake Wilderness Proposal, are vulnerable to potentially changing rules.

Forest lands covered in Late Successional Reserves (LSR’s) or Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) don’t automatically protect them from industrial exploitation. It is not safe to assume that overlapping levels of protection means that area safe from logging, road building or mining.

Areas like the Diamond Lake Resort offer much appreciated recreational activities to those seeking skiing adventures and motorized experiences on and off the lake. Diamond Lake Resort provides an important diversity of recreation and is not included in the Crater Lake Wilderness proposal. All of the cabins and access roads, as well as hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails, would also be unaffected by the proposal. Perhaps establishing a National Recreation Area status for these lands directly adjacent to the Diamond Lake Resort area would be a good fit, protecting it for its long term recreational goals.

As more and more visitors world wide seek wilderness adventure, it is to our benefit, environmentally, socially and economically to offer increased wilderness protections for everyone.

If you want to know more about the Crater Lake Wilderness Proposal, please visit the Umpqua Watersheds website: umpquawatersheds.org.

Susan Applegate is a member and activist with organizations such as Oregon Wild and Umpqua Watersheds. She is also an artist whose work reflects her connection to the wonders of our natural world. She is a member of the Applegate House Heritage Arts and Education; Elkcreek Watershed Council, and a member of the Wilderness Committee of Umpqua Watersheds.

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