SSIREP Research Workshop: Erik Loomis (Associate Professor, Department of History)

Discussant: Aaron Ley (Associate Professor, Department of Political Science)

Whose Oregon Is It: Field Burning, Logging, and Environmentalism in the 1980s

  • Date: February 26, 2021
  • Time: 3:00 PM EST
  • Location: This event was on Zoom and has concluded.


The Pacific Northwest’s economy grew in the postwar period based around a white working class economy with moderate politics and natural resource production. This began to change in the 1960s as the region became attractive to the counterculture and people looking to enjoy an outdoor lifestyle. But the industrial methods of logging, agriculture, fishing, and other industries threatened the region’s natural beauty. With the rise of hip capitalism beginning to transform the region as well by the 1980s, political battles over the natural resource economy grew and came to dominate the region’s poltiics. This paper looks at the Willamette Valley and adjacent communities in western Oregon to demonstrate how this played out, particularly over the practices of clearcutting timber and burning grass seed fields. It uses these issues as a case study in environmental and class politics as part of the nation’s growing political polarization that, in Oregon, culminated in the 2016 takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by right-wing extremists. It provides a close read of city, county, and state politics to demonstrate the inconsistencies and contradictions in how the region’s residents responded to these issues, ultimately looking at an important question under constant debate in these years: Who does Oregon belong to?