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Public Lands

Lakes Basin National Forests

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, commonly known as the Forest Service or USFS, is a federal agency that manages public lands in national forests and grasslands. Across the U.S., the USFS manages 155 national forests that encompass 193 million acres, an area the size of Texas. Land uses in national forests focus on timber harvesting, livestock grazing, water diversion, wildlife protection, and recreation. Unlike national parks and other federal land managed by the National Park Service, commercial use of national forests is permitted.

In the state of Oregon there are thirteen national forests and one national grassland. Of these, two national forests exist in the Lakes Basin in southeastern and south-central Oregon: the Deschutes National Forest, and the Fremont-Winema National Forest. The national forest that encompasses the most land in the Lakes Basin is the Fremont-Winema National Forest

Deschutes National Forest

The Deschutes National Forest was created in 1893 as part of the Cascade Forest Reserve, and has played an important role in central Oregon's economic and social history. Historically a major source of commercial timber, the forest has proven equally important as a destination for the millions of tourists who visit central Oregon each year. The southwestern corner of the Deschutes National Forest is contained within the Lakes Basin.

Timber management activities in the Deschutes National Forest began as early as 1912, and in 1922 the first sale of lumber from the forest was made by Brooks-Scanlon, Inc. Since 1922, an estimated 6.5 billion board feet of timber has been cut from the forest. Between 1934 and 1944, however, the Deschutes National Forest began implementing reforestation strategies. Sixty years ago, the 60,000 acres surrounding Lava Butte in Newberry National Volcanic Monument was completely barren of trees. Reforestation efforts have been successful, and today a healthy forest exists in that area.

The Deschutes National Forest has also historically hosted thousands of head of cattle. The Forest Homestead Act of 1906 brought many settlers to central Oregon, and most of the meadowland within the national forest was claimed by ranchers. Today, grazing allotments are in high demand, and the national forest continues to receive more grazing requests than it can fulfill.

The Deschutes National Forest has been used for recreation and relaxation since its creation. The earliest recreationists were fishermen who accessed the forest on dirt track roads. The first simple facilities were installed at campsites in the 1920s, and additional facilities were built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. In 1926, forest supervisors drafted a Forest Recreation Plan. Today, the forest attracts more than 8 million visitors, who enjoy activities such as fishing, boating, hiking, camping, and skiing.

Fremont-Winema National Forest

The Fremont National Forest was established in 1908, and named after John Fremont, an explorer, surveyor, and later politician who was sent to investigate the Oregon Trail in the mid- 1800s. The Winema National Forest was established in 1961, and named after a Native American tribeswoman and interpreter of the Modoc tribe. Winema was integral to negotiations during the Modoc War, a conflict between the tribe and the U.S. Army that occurred in the Lakes Basin 1872 to 1873. The two national forests were administratively combined in December, 2002, to create the 2.3-million-acre Fremont-Winema National Forest.

More than 50% of the Winema National Forest is comprised of former Klamath Indian Reservation land. Members of the tribe reserve the rights of hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering on these lands. The forest's acres of ponderosa and lodgepole pine grow in deep pumice and ash that blanketed the region during the eruption of Mount Mazama, today known as Crater Lake, 7,000 years ago. Visitors to the Fremont-Winema National Forest can participate in a wide array of activities including fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, boating, skiing, and snowmobiling.

Over 300 species of fish and wildlife occur in the Fremont-Winema National Forest. Currently, eleven threatened and endangered species occur within the forest, including the Canada lynx, bald eagle, northern spotted owl, Oregon spotted frog, and bull trout. Large mammals include elk, mule deer, and pronghorn antelope. Small populations of large predators also exist, including black bear, mountain lion, and bobcat

One consistent problem that occurs within the forest is the mountain pine beetle epidemic. The infestation within the Fremont-Winema National Forest began in the early 1900's and has spread farther south each year to encompass 203,029 acres. The so-called Red Zone has affected 28 recreation sites, 76 miles of trail, and 1,304 miles of Forest Service roads. The Forest Service is working to restore this area by thinning ponderosa pine to improve the health of existing stands, and re-planting mixed conifer trees in affected areas.

A large number of projects ongoing in the forest, covering topics such as forest genetics, biomass reduction, watershed analyses, water quality monitoring, and road analysis. The biomass reduction project focuses on reducing biomass to sustainable levels and allowing fire to play a natural role in the ecosystem. The project is also determining whether the removed debris might be used to produce electricity when used for fuel at power plants. The forest genetics project focuses on producing high-quality seed for future reforestation projects. The watershed analysis project aims to determine the interactions between management actions and watersheds. Forest managers must also conduct water quality tests on a regular basis to maintain waters that meet or exceed federal and state standards.

For more information about the national forests in the Lakes Basin, visit these sites:

Authored by Caitlin Bell, Science Writer, Oregon Explorer

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