For thousands of years, the region known today as Mt. Hood National Forest has been home to dozens of Native nations. While unjustly under-recognized and underrepresented in land management in modern times, Indigenous people’s cultural authority and relationship to these lands endure. While the Forest Service has trust, responsibility, and treaty obligations, the 1990 Mt. Hood Forest Plan does not explicitly assess or plan for specific issues of cultural importance for Native nations. Bark seeks opportunities to support the vision and authority of Native communities to shape changes to the Forest Plan. In 2022, we plan to add permanent staff to our team to ensure that we can exert pressure towards Mt. Hood Forest Plan amendments that center the vision of Native communities.
The plan does, to some degree, assess and plan for issues of cultural importance for the non-native public such as recreation access. Improved management standards and guidelines which center environmental justice and cultural reconciliation would better serve diverse communities and correct systemic marginalization of Indigenous cultures and other communities whose interests are routinely overlooked in favor of privileging the white, middle-class status quo.
Over the past two decades, recreational use of Mt. Hood National Forest has skyrocketed, drawing millions of local residents and visitors each year for a range of mainstream activities that include: hiking, backpacking, camping, trail running, fishing, picnicking, and skiing. This growing popularity is having a significant economic impact on nearby communities, with the sale of outdoor recreational goods and services produced in the region generating more than $45 million per year. Unfortunately, the current Forest Plan and Congressional expectations prioritize timber harvest––which on average generate less than $2 million per year in revenue for the U.S. Forest Service––over outdoor recreation and all other uses. While several laws require the Forest Service to manage for “multiple uses”. Logging receives the lion’s share of Forest Service resources and staffing.
This emphasis on timber harvests persists despite the fact that the outdoor recreation industry now contributes three times more to Oregon’s economy than the logging and wood products industries, while preserving the forest for public use, instead of destroying it for short-term profits.
While recreational activities are far less destructive and far more economically stable than logging, their increasing popularity is also having negative impacts on watersheds and ecosystems. The growing number of people flocking to the forest for mainstream recreation activities is straining facilities, contributing to degraded recreation and heritage sites, harming wildlife habitat, causing conflicts between users, and spawning a ballooning backlog of urgently needed maintenance on facilities, trails, and roads. Meanwhile, some inappropriate recreational uses, such as off-highway vehicle (OHV) use outside designated areas, are being encouraged by logging operations, which open up previously inaccessible areas to destructive activities.