Mount Hood's unique economy

Mount Hood's unique economy

Article Index

0611_MountainEcon_05
Legislation in 2009 designated an additional 127,000 acres of land around Mount Hood as wilderness.
The economy associated with Oregon’s tallest mountain goes above and beyond recreation and tourism. Ever since Native Americans harvested huckleberries from the mountain’s flanks and pioneers first felled trees for cabins, natural resources from Hood and its surrounding environment have been crucial to not only the region’s economy, but to its very survival.

According to the Forest Service, the nearly 1.1-million-acre MHNF is host to no fewer than 15 municipal watersheds, the largest being the Bull Run Watershed, which provides drinking water for more than 800,000 Oregonians in the Portland metro region. Bull Run’s massive output, which comes not from the mountain’s glaciers but primarily from heavy rainfall, includes water for more than 20,000 commercial, industrial and institutional users such as Wacker Siltronic, Precision Castparts and Vigor Industrial.

Water from the Hood River, which pours directly off the mountain’s east and northern faces, also helps irrigate the pear, apple and cherry orchards of the Hood River Valley, one of the economic foundations of the area.

“Agriculture is the No. 1 economic factor in Hood River County and it has been forever,” says Jean Godfrey, executive director of the Columbia Gorge Fruit Growers, a nonprofit organization that works on behalf of growers and shippers in the mid-Columbia area. “Some people like to think it’s tourism, but it’s not.”

Every year, 350 growers in the Hood River Valley produce about 196,000 tons of pears, apples and cherries. When harvest is in full swing, more than 3,000 people are at work in orchards and packing houses across the valley. And once the picking and packing is done, roughly $84 million worth of fruit ships out, 30% of it leaving the country and the rest finding its way across it.

Another key natural resource, one which used to underpin much of the mountain economy, plays a fraction of the role that it used to: timber.