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A critical analysis of wildlife conservation in Oregon

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  • This analysis is the study of Oregon's wildlife resources from the period prior to white settlement up to the present time, including critical projections, based on present trends and expected conditions for both human and wildlife populations in the state up to the year 2010. Prior to white settlement Oregon was apparently part of a well balanced ecosystem. The fertile, moist valley regions were areas where an abundance of wildlife was found. Elk, deer, bear, antelope and their associated predators occupied these favorable sites. The Oregon Indian lived harmoniously within this environment. He conducted himself as a "prudent predator" and generally sought game which was most easily available. These animals were abundant enough to withstand the hunting pressure exerted by the limited Indian population. The only major deliberate control the Indian extended over his environment was burning. Indians ignited large areas to enhance the harvest of wild plants and animals. One of these areas was the Willamette Valley, parts of which were apparently maintained in a condition of fire climax or disclimax long prior to the arrival of white settlers. White pioneers arriving in Oregon in the 1840's settled first in locations where the best agricultural land and available moisture was found. These areas coincided with prime game habitat and the immediate effect of settlement was the displacement of wildlife from their traditional ranges to areas of inferior fertility and moisture. The pattern of development of white civilization had a severe impact on wildlife populations from the late 1800's to the early 1900's. Drainage and reclamation projects coupled with prolonged drought periods drastically reduced waterfowl populations. Excessive killing of game for the meat, hide and feather value further reduced wildlife populations when market hunting reached its peak between 1870 and 1900. Predator and rodent cool efforts were directed toward improving agricultural conditions but often resulted in upsetting previous balances among several forms of wildlife. After 1893 wildlife management evolved through periods of protection, stocking, refuges, and systematic management. The Oregon State Game Commission and the United States Bureau of Biological Survey attempted to work cooperatively with several state and federal agencies in the 1920's and 1930's in an effort to restore depleted wildlife populations. The Taylor Grazing Act helped prevent further mismanagement of rangeland. The Migratory Bird Stamp Act allowed funds for waterfowl habitat purchases. Other legislation such as the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid to Wildlife Restoration Act is further testimony of Federal Programs which have provided the means for wildlife restoration since the 1930's. The general development of cooperative wildlife research units in the United States together with the formation of Oregon State University's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife were important steps in the movement toward more scientific wildlife management during the 1930's. Several important wildlife management programs were developed in Oregon and successful wildlife restoration programs have continued up to the present time. Although wildlife populations have been largely restored through systematic management, they are again being lost. The next losses will be from severe competition with man for living space and resources. Based on demographic projections and current trends, it appears that the burgeoning human population will eventually cause the annihilation of many wildlife species. Upset watersheds, widespread pollution, increased competition for natural resources, and competition for living space between man and wildlife are unpleasant but real prospects for Oregon's future.
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