Finding Common Purpose in a National Forest: After Four Decades of Conflict, the City of Portland and the USDA Forest Service Are Working Together to Manage the Bull Run Watershed in Mt. Hood National Forest

By Larsen, Gary L. | The Public Manager, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Finding Common Purpose in a National Forest: After Four Decades of Conflict, the City of Portland and the USDA Forest Service Are Working Together to Manage the Bull Run Watershed in Mt. Hood National Forest


Larsen, Gary L., The Public Manager


The City of Portland Bureau of Water Works and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service are working together, along with citizens, to create a new, more relevant relationship for long-term stewardship of the Bull Run Watershed in Mt. Hood National Forest. The two agencies are creating policy through a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that replaces an outdated 1979 agreement. This new policy, when formally adopted, will align practice with existing legislation and provide the needed administrative direction and understandings to structure the parties' roles, responsibilities, business processes, and working relationships for the coming decades.

This process of policy formulation is unique from several perspectives. First, the two agencies represent far-removed levels of government. Second, they have been connected by federal legislation for over a century. Third, formulation of this new policy follows on the heels of four decades of conflict revolving around differences between the local and federal view of highest and best use--namely timber harvest. Fourth, this process of formulating a new policy can be traced to citizen action arising from civil society--particularly a proposal from the Bull Run Heritage Foundation. And last, this policy formulation employs state-of-the-art approaches for engaging citizens.

Bull Run Reserve

In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison set aside the Bull Run Forest Reserve as part of the national system of forest reserves in the United States. The reserve is five miles west of Mt. Hood and about twenty-six miles east of downtown Portland, covering 102 square miles. The president established boundaries and prohibited entry into or development of Bull Run by proclamation, and the initial Bull Run water supply system was completed in 1895. In 1904, Congress passed the Bull Run Trespass Act for the protection of Bull Run Forest Reserve and the sources of the water supply for the City of Portland. For most of the last century, Bull Run, on the basis of its water quality and level of protection, has been listed among a handful of outstanding sources of water in the United States. It is an integral part of the region's heritage and legacy.

After 1958, a number of non-water resource management activities began in the basin, including recreation in outlying areas of the original reserve boundary and timber management. These activities continued until 1976, when court action enjoined further recreation and logging. Public Law (P.L.) 95-200, the Bull Run Watershed Management Act of 1977, formulated in response to court action, established the Bull Run Watershed Management Unit with an objective of producing "pure, clear, raw potable water ... for the City of Portland and other local government units and persons in the Portland metropolitan area." Although P.L. 95-200 constrained active forest management for the purpose of producing timber in the watershed, the Forest Service initiated salvage logging in response to a 1983 windstorm that blew down 5,800 acres of trees.

In 1990, about 90 percent of the watershed became designated as a late-successional reserve (LSR) for the protection of Northern Spotted Owl and adopted as part of President Clinton's Northwest Forest Plan. Timber harvest and salvage operations were severely restricted in LSRs. Concerns about timber harvest of any kind persisted, and Bull Run interest groups worked with the city in 1993, unsuccessfully urging Congress to further limit timber harvest in the watershed. In 1996, the Oregon Resources Conservation Act, which generally prohibited timber harvest on all Forest Service lands within the 65,500-acre water supply drainage, provided additional protection for part of the watershed.

Converging Purposes

These congressional actions, along with substantially changed policy direction, firmly established land management direction for the Bull Run Management Unit. …

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Finding Common Purpose in a National Forest: After Four Decades of Conflict, the City of Portland and the USDA Forest Service Are Working Together to Manage the Bull Run Watershed in Mt. Hood National Forest
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