October 24, 2001 11:00 pm

La Grande can take heart in its efforts to improve the local environment through the care and planting of trees. Not every community in Oregon can tout trees as an aspect of livability. Not anymore anyway, especially not in the Willamette Valley, where development has removed about half of the trees that existed only 30 years ago.

The green label that frequently is applied to Oregon when it comes to the environment and land-use planning doesnt fit the reality of what has happened in the Willamette Valley. While valley environmentalists were focusing on preserving national forests and rain forests, the valleys trees were disappearing right from under their noses.

Satellite research by American Forests, a conservation group, shows that about 2 million acres of the thickest trees in the Willamette Valley have disappeared since 1972. Thats an average of nearly 200 acres of urban forests lost each day trees that could have served as a draining, cooling and cleaning system.

The study measured trees in 63 sample plots near Portland, Vancouver, Eugene, Corvallis, Salem, Wilsonville, Tualatin, Beaverton and Albany. Researchers compared satellite images recorded in 1972 and 2000. The thickest patches of trees grew on 3.7 million acres in 1972, on 1.6 million acres in 2000. Open land, with less than 20 percent tree cover, expanded from 3.9 million acres to 6 million acres, the research showed.

Things do look different in the Willamette Valley than they did 30 years ago. Although the development has kept most of the valley economically viable, the landscape has taken on a vastly different look. The portion of the region covered by trees has fallen from 46 percent in 1972 to 24 percent today. Imagine what the numbers might be if farmland was thrown in the mix.

The study is sure to be disputed by other groups. But it does give fodder to those who might argue that Oregons land-use and environmental laws arent all they are cracked up to be, and that some people are much too eager to focus their efforts everywhere but in their own backyards.


This weeks energy tip from the Community Conservation Challenge: Install motion sensors and timers on outdoor lights.

With standard time arriving Sunday, were going to be in darkness more of the time. By installing motion sensors on outdoor lights, consumers can save 10 or more hours of electricity at night. Home occupants should adjust their sensors so they are not easily activated by cars passing by on the street, or overnight savings might be minimal

For someone who leaves an outdoor light on for security purposes, a motion sensor saves about 150 watts a night, a savings of about $33 a year, according to BPA mechanical engineer Tony Koch.