Cow Creek Umpqua Chairman Carla Keene: The story of our forests
June 06, 2024
Carla Keene, Chairman
Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians

PDX asked representatives from our four tribal partners to tell us the story of the wood they supplied for the new main terminal and how they manage their sovereign lands. Read all four stories. 

In 2018, the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act honored our 1853 treaty and restored 17,000 of our ancestral land to us. Then, in 2019, the Milepost 97 Fire destroyed 3,634 acres of our property — 20 percent of what we were just given back. When I first went up there, it looked like an atomic bomb had gone off. It was devastating to see. The trees were gone. It was just black, and it was just the most depressing sight I'd ever seen. 

The reason that wildfire burned so hot, and why we could not get to it quickly enough, was because the forest had not been taken care of. The roads had not been maintained there. There had already been a fire there several decades earlier, and they hadn’t cleaned up the property afterward, so all these dead snags (trees) from that previous fire were still laying on the ground, becoming fuel for the new fire. 

The board of directors said, “We have to restore the forest.” So we started cleaning the land. We found logs that were still salvageable and brought them out. Even though they were burned, there was still lumber that could be used. We built a small mill to process it.

That's the wood that went to PDX. When you walk into the Portland International Airport, people are going to see our lumber around the terminal. It’s a great way to repurpose the lumber that was charred. 

We also remodeled our government office, using repurposed wood from that fire. We used the wood in the area where the board sits for our council meetings, so that we can remember what we are able to do when we take care of the forest. Always remembering what has happened, and the gifts that we are given. We can rise from the ashes and make something good out of something bad that happened. 

We’ve now replanted the land that burned. It has 1 million trees on it now. In 50 or 75 years from now, my great-great-grandchildren will benefit from what we've accomplished by reforesting that burn. Hopefully, with the reforestation, there won't be another large fire. We're always going to have wildfires, but if we keep the land clean — thinning the trees, cleaning the forest floor — there will be minimal damage. 

If you go back up today, you see all these new seedlings that have been planted, and the roads are taken care of. You see hope in the future. What we have now is a legacy for our seven generations, to show them what can happen: Even though something bad happened, something good came out of that. 

Conservation is about management. Everything that's living and breathing, you have to take care of it. It gives back if you take care of it. I mean, that's what our ancestors did and it's what I believe that we're doing. And I hope that my children do and I hope that my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren, and on up continue to do as well.