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State's outdoors choices deserve thanks all around.

Byline: Mike Stahlberg / The Register-Guard

THANKSGIVING is an outdoorsy holiday.

After all, the Pilgrims spread their harvest bounty on tables set up out-of-doors. And many Oregon families (at least those with roots that run deeper in the state than television's) have traditional outings associated with Thanksgiving. Some hike a favorite trail. Others hunt waterfowl or pheasants. A few drift a local river in hopes of catching an early winter steelhead.

So it's appropriate for outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen to pause on Thanksgiving Day and think about some of the things that make their lives enjoyable.

For there is certainly much about living in Oregon to be thankful about, starting with the fact that so much of our state is accessible to the public. Not many states afford their citizens the kind of guaranteed beach access that Oregon does. The state constitution guarantees us access to all navigable rivers, and we have expansive public forests.

I'm also appreciative of many of the things we don't have.

Some descendants of the Pilgrims, for example, live in states where tents are blown down by hurricanes, or where recreational vehicles are picked up and sent a-spinning through the air by tornados. Not all Americans live where the earth hardly ever quakes very hard. And we shouldn't overlook the fact that all those volcanoes forming Oregon's backbone have been pleasingly peaceful for centuries.

Shoot, in the 35 years I've lived in western Oregon, there's been only one blizzard worthy of the name. So the worst you can say about Oregon is that sometimes it rains too much, and other times it doesn't rain enough.

Yep, Nature's been good to us. Better, many times, than we are to her.

Anyone who fishes for salmon or steelhead almost certainly recognizes they have cause to be thankful as anadromous fish have come stampeding back to Oregon waterways in the past two years. A dozen years ago, many off those runs appeared caught in an irreversible downward spiral.

The suckhole was largely of mankind's making. Over-fishing and poor stewardship of the habitat put wild coho, steelhead and sea-run cutthroat trout in danger of possible extinction.

Hunters can be thankful that the very scary chronic wasting disease has not yet found its way into Oregon's deer and elk herds. (Although it is troubling that some other diseases, including the mysterious "hair loss syndrome," have erupted here and are taking a heavy toll on blacktailed deer.)

Anglers and hunters alike can be thankful that they get a better deal from the state, in many ways, than their forefathers did.

Salem Statesman-Journal outdoor writer Henry Miller pointed this out in a recent column, after someone mailed him a yellowed copy of the 1935 Oregon fishing and hunting regulations. The old rules set the price of an annual fishing or hunting license for an Oregon resident at $3 (the combo cost $5).

Miller calculated that, after adjusting for inflation, the $3 license in 1935 would cost $38.19 today. A 2002 license actually sold for $19.75.

And don't forget that hunters in the 1930s couldn't even go afield with hopes of putting a wild turkey on their table at Thanksgiving as there was no turkey hunting then. Now turkeys are distributed throughout Oregon, and we have spring and fall seasons. All thanks to "trap and transplant" programs run by state wildlife biologists and the National Wild Turkey Foundation.

Nor was hunting of pronghorn antelope or bighorn sheep allowed in the 1930s. Thanks to modern game management, thousands of hunters get those privileges.

And elk hunting in 1935 was allowed only in parts of a handful of counties - Baker, Wallowa, Union, Grant and Umatilla. Now, elk are probably more numerous and widespread in Oregon than they have ever been - again, thanks to game-management programs that helped replace herds that had been almost wiped out by "market hunters."

So, as much as some people bad-mouth it, we could even be thankful for a fish and wildlife department that has helped make some things better than they were in the "good old days."

Even if you don't hunt or fish, you probably have more opportunity to take advantage of Oregon's outdoors than your grandparents did.

What percentage of the population prior to World War II do you suppose had the mobility, economic wherewithal and free time to get involved in outdoor recreation as much as people today do?

Then there's the matter of the incredibly wide range of choices we have when it comes to playing in the outdoors.

Many forms of outdoor recreation that we take for granted today didn't even exist - at least in the popular public consciousness - when the Baby Boomers were kids. Think snowboarding, rock climbing, sky-diving and kayaking (river or sea) were among their options?

Yes, these are the best of times for outdoor recreation. And we're lucky to live in one of the best places on Earth to take advantage of them.

Mike Stahlberg is the Register-Guard's outdoor writer. He can be reached at mstahlberg@guardnet.com.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Nov 28, 2002
Words:837
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