CORVALLIS - The Oregon State University Press has published an unprecedented new reference book detailing ecological conditions and human activity in the Willamette River Basin through the past century-and-a-half and beyond.

"Willamette River Basin Planning Atlas, Trajectories of Environmental and Ecological Change" is a large format volume, full of color maps, tables, aerial and archival photos and other illustrations. With lucid text, it provides long-term, large-scale perspective of human and natural systems of the Willamette Basin through time.

The atlas provides a detailed examination of how the Willamette Basin might change between now and the year 2050, when an additional 1.7 million people are expected to live in the region.

Working together as the Pacific Northwest Research Consortium, the project was a major undertaking of scientists from OSU, the University of Oregon and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"Thirty to 40 of us worked on this project for about seven years, working together to do something really huge," said Stan Gregory, OSU professor of fisheries and wildlife and a principal investigator of the project. "Usually studies are limited to a certain small area, a municipality or county. We put all our data for communities in the entire Willamette Basin together to see how all our management decisions add up to create a landscape."

According to Gregory and others who worked on the project, results of the analysis necessary to create the atlas offered some surprising hope for the future of the Willamette Basin's environment.

"What blew me away was that we found that we might be able to improve or get back some of what we've lost, as far as wildlife, fish and riparian habitat - even if we have two million more people in 2050, if we choose to take conservation seriously," said Gregory. v Harnessing population forecasting, mathematical models, natural resource inventories, land use patterns and computer mapping technologies, the authors "looked" into future alternatives and their likely effects on important natural resources including water, terrestrial habitats and wildlife. The three possible scenarios they considered were:

  • The Plan-Trend Scenario, in which present-day policies and land use practices in forestry, agriculture and urban development are assumed to carry on unchanged from now until the year 2050;
  • The Development Scenario, in which land use laws and other environmental policies are loosened and "market forces" would have greater influence to 2050;
  • The Conservation Scenario, in which conservation and restoration of ecological function would play a larger role in land and water allocation to 2050, relative to today's practices.

"The models and scenarios told us, yes, all the little cumulative land use and public policy decisions we make now and into the future may make a difference for future generations," said Gregory.

The 192-page atlas is rich with history, geography, geology, biology and patterns of human population and land use from the time of European settlement up to the present. It offers concepts for river restoration and potential future scenarios as well.

Intended to inform policy makers, public officials, resource managers, and scientists - as well as students and citizens - the atlas provides a comprehensive means to learn about past ecological conditions and human activity and plan for the future of the Willamette Basin, the most populated and productive region of Oregon.

Although the atlas focuses on the Willamette River Basin, it can provide a useful model for planners and residents of other river basins as well, said Gregory.

"We hope that both public and private agencies and watershed councils will use it as they think about land use and resource decisions," said Gregory. "Only by understanding the full implications of the choices before them can local communities make informed decisions about future land and water use."

"Willamette River Basin Planning Atlas - Trajectories of Environmental and Ecological Change" was edited by David Hulse, Gregory, and Joan Baker for the Pacific Northwest Ecosystem Consortium. The book is available in bookstores, libraries or by calling 1-800-426-3797.

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Stan Gregory, 541-737-1951