Oregon – a state of contrasts

Travelling through Oregon provides one with a smorgasbord of contrasting ecosystems, geography, agricultural production

Ahead of the Heard

Travelling through Oregon provides one with a smorgasbord of contrasting ecosystems, geography, agricultural production and socio-economic perspectives that are quite different from Alberta. A shocking revelation is that the entire state was once covered by basalt lava hundreds of feet deep all from a single massive super volcano fissure that was 10 miles long. That volcano is still around by the way, it’s now located in Yellowstone Park and last erupted 250,000 years ago. It’s still active and volcanologists claim that although an eruption does not appear imminent, it could happen anytime – that does cause one to feel somewhat humble. Another Oregon volcano eruption occurred not so long ago; what is now known as Crater Lake was once Mount Mazawa, it blew up a mere 7,000 years ago. That 12,000 foot volcano blew off the top 6,000 feet in a matter of a few days resulting in a massive ash and pumice cloud that covered 500,000 square miles, that debris landed as far away as Alberta and Saskatchewan. That eruption, which was 42 times as strong as the Mount St Helens, explosion probably affected the climate on a global scale for years.

The reason past and recent geologic calamities in Oregon (and elsewhere) are of interest is that it makes a sad joke of all the fearmongering about the human impact on climate change. One such major volcanic event would far surpass all the human produced carbon related emissions ever emitted. Can a cataclysmic volcano event happen again – that’s guaranteed – so maybe we need to take all the mindless anxiety about climate change into some real context, it’s not really in our hands. But I digress.

Near the coastal town of Tillamook one discovers a massive cheese factory that produces 160,000 pounds of cheddar cheese a day. That takes a million pounds of raw milk a day and it all comes from local dairy producers. Cheese production has an interesting history in the area and Tillamook Cheese has won many awards for taste and quality. But that has an interesting Canadian connection – their famous cheese comes from a Canadian cheese maker who was hired by the cheese factory in the early 1900s. He brought with him the recipe for Canadian type cheddar cheese. That’s right the famous Tillamook cheese is actually a copy of Canadian cheddar – they don’t quite point out that Canadian connection in their marketing brochure.

The commercial fishing industry on the Oregon coast is like elsewhere up the entire North American Pacific west coast, a ghost of its former self. Local museums relate the history of numerous salmon canneries on every significant river, but without any regard for conservation that industry collapsed by the 1930s when there were few salmon left to catch. Despite a massive fish hatchery effort to replenish salmon in rivers and streams that fishery has never recovered. It’s all it can do just to support the tourist sport fishing business. There is some commercial salmon fishing, but it is highly regulated. Outside of oyster farms there is not much sign of any commercial salmon fish farming on the coast. Yet Oregon has a significant land-based commercial trout farming industry In contrast to the wet coastal areas, there are vast dryland areas in the more central and eastern areas of Oregon. One is impressed at large land areas devoted to hay production. The climate seems ideal for growing grass and alfalfa hay that with irrigation can produce at least 4 forage crops a year. Massive stacks of giant square bales are everywhere and many semis with hay are seen on the highways. Some of that big bale hay production finds its way to dairy farms in the BC Fraser Valley.

Another surprising agriculture industry is cranberry production, which is located in the southern coastal region of the state. It all started with one individual who had an idea, and found land, water and a climate that fit cranberries perfectly. That original production is now part of the Ocean Spray cranberry products system, the world’s largest marketer of cranberries.

Like other American states great efforts are made to encourage local food production. Oregon grown and made labels and promotion is everywhere. For many local products I suspect that effort can only satisfy local premium markets. That approach seems to connect to the green-minded attitude of the Oregon government. That approach by accident or design has affected the original resource-based economy of the state; it’s a strategy that could have a serious down-side for Oregon. More on that next time.