Oregon

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Oregon

Oregon is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the Western United States. The Columbia River delineates much of Oregon’s northern boundary with Washington, while the Snake River delineates much of its eastern boundary with Idaho. The 42° north parallel delineates the southern boundary with California and Nevada.

Etymology

The earliest evidence of the name Oregon has Spanish origins. The term “orejón” (meaning “big ear”) comes from the historical chronicle Relación de la Alta y Baja California (1598), written by Rodrigo Montezuma of New Spain; it made reference to the Columbia River when the Spanish explorers penetrated into the North American territory that became part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. 

This chronicle is the first topographical and linguistic source with respect to the place name Oregon. There are also two other sources with Spanish origins, such as the word oregano, referring to a plant that grows in the southern part of the region. It is possible that the American territory was named by the Spaniards, as there is a stream in Spain called the “Arroyo del Oregón” (which is located in the province of Ciudad Real); it is also possible that the “j” in the Spanish phrase “El Orejón” was later corrupted into a “g”, and in context might refer to the ‘earful’ of the massive Columbia River at its mouth.

Geography

Oregon is 295 miles (475 km) north to south at longest distance, and 395 miles (636 km) east to west. With an area of 98,381 square miles (254,810 km2), Oregon is slightly larger than the United Kingdom. It is the ninth largest state in the United States. Oregon’s highest point is the summit of Mount Hood, at 11,249 feet (3,429 m), and its lowest point is the sea level of the Pacific Ocean along the Oregon Coast. Oregon’s mean elevation is 3,300 feet (1,006 m). Crater Lake National Park, the state’s only national park, is the site of the deepest lake in the United States at 1,943 feet (592 m). Oregon claims the D River as the shortest river in the world, though the state of Montana makes the same claim of its Roe River. Oregon is also home to Mill Ends Park (in Portland), the smallest park in the world at 452 square inches (0.29 m2).

Oregon is split into eight geographical regions. In Western Oregon: Oregon Coast (west of the Coast Range), the Willamette Valley, Rogue Valley, Cascade Range and Klamath Mountains; and in Central and Eastern Oregon: the Columbia Plateau, the High Desert, and the Blue Mountains.

Geology

Western Oregon's mountainous regions, home to three of the most prominent mountain peaks of the United States including Mount Hood, were formed by the volcanic activity of the Juan de Fuca Plate, a tectonic plate that poses a continued threat of volcanic activity and earthquakes in the region. The most recent major activity was the 1700 Cascadia earthquake. Washington's Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, an event visible from northern Oregon and affecting some areas there.

The Columbia River, which forms much of Oregon's northern border, also played a major role in the region's geological evolution, as well as its economic and cultural development. The Columbia is one of North America's largest rivers, and one of two rivers to cut through the Cascades (the Klamath River in southern Oregon is the other). About 15,000 years ago, the Columbia repeatedly flooded much of Oregon during the Missoula Floods; the modern fertility of the Willamette Valley is largely the result. Plentiful salmon made parts of the river, such as Celilo Falls, hubs of economic activity for thousands of years.

Climate

Most of Oregon has a generally mild climate, though there is significant variation given the variety of landscapes across the state. The state’s western region (west of the Cascade Range) has an oceanic climate, populated by dense evergreen mixed forests. Western Oregon’s climate is heavily influenced by the Pacific Ocean; the western third of Oregon is very wet in the winter, moderately to very wet during the spring and fall, and dry during the summer. The relative humidity of Western Oregon is high except during summer days, which are semi-dry to semi-humid; Eastern Oregon typically sees low humidity year-round.

The state’s southwestern portion, particularly the Rogue Valley, has a Mediterranean climate with drier and sunnier winters and hotter summers, similar to Northern California. Oregon’s northeastern portion has a steppe climate, and its high terrain regions have a subarctic climate. Like Western Europe, Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest in general, is considered warm for its latitude, and the state has far milder winters at a given elevation than comparable latitudes elsewhere in North America, such as the Upper Midwest, Ontario, Quebec and New England. However, the state ranks fifth for coolest summer temperatures of any state in the country, after Maine, Idaho, Wyoming, and Alaska.

Cities and Towns

Oregon’s population is largely concentrated in the Willamette Valley, which stretches from Eugene in the south (home of the University of Oregon) through Corvallis (home of Oregon State University) and Salem (the capital) to Portland (Oregon’s largest city).

Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River, was the first permanent English-speaking settlement west of the Rockies in what is now the United States. Oregon City, at the end of the Oregon Trail, was the Oregon Territory’s first incorporated city, and was its first capital from 1848 until 1852, when the capital was moved to Salem. Bend, near the geographic center of the state, is one of the ten fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States. In southern Oregon, Medford is a rapidly growing metro area and is home to the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport, the state’s third-busiest airport. To the south, near the California border, is the city of Ashland. Eastern Oregon is sparsely populated, but is home to Hermiston, which with a population of 18,000 is the largest and fastest-growing city in the region.

Demographics

Population

The United States Census Bureau determined that the population of Oregon was 4,237,256 in 2020, based on the 2020 United States census, a 10.71% increase over the 2010 census. Oregon was the nation's "Top Moving Destination" in 2014, with two families moving into the state for every one moving out (66.4% to 33.6%). Oregon was also the top moving destination in 2013, and the second-most popular destination in 2010 through 2012. As of the 2010 census, the population of Oregon was 3,831,074. The gender makeup of the state was 49.5% male and 50.5% female. 22.6% of the population were under the age of 18; 63.5% were between the ages of 18 and 64; and 12.5% were 65 years of age or older.

According to the 2020 United States census, 13.9% of Oregon's Population were of Hispanic or Latino origin (of any race). According to the 2016 American Community Survey, 12.4% of Oregon's population were of Hispanic or Latino origin (of any race): Mexican (10.4%), Puerto Rican (0.3%), Cuban (0.1%), and other Hispanic or Latino origin (1.5%). The five largest ancestry groups for White Oregonians were: German (19.1%), Irish (11.7%), English (11.3%), American (5.3%), and Norwegian (3.8%).

Religion

Oregon has frequently been cited by statistical agencies for having a smaller percentage of religious communities than other U.S. states. According to a 2009 Gallup poll, Oregon was paired with Vermont as the two “least religious” states in the United States.

In the same 2009 Gallup poll, 69% of Oregonians identified themselves as being Christian. The largest Christian denominations in Oregon by number of adherents in 2010 were the Roman Catholic Church with 398,738; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with 147,965; and the Assemblies of God with 45,492. Oregon also contains the largest community of Russian Old Believers to be found in the United States. Judaism is the largest non-Christian religion in Oregon with more than 50,000 adherents, 47,000 of whom live in the Portland area. Recently, new kosher food and Jewish educational offerings have led to a rapid increase in Portland’s Orthodox Jewish population. The Northwest Tibetan Cultural Association is headquartered in Portland. There are an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 Muslims in Oregon, most of whom live in and around Portland.

Economy

As of 2015, Oregon ranks as the 17th highest in median household income at $60,834. The gross domestic product (GDP) of Oregon in 2013 was $219.6 billion, a 2.7% increase from 2012; Oregon is the 25th wealthiest state by GDP. In 2003, Oregon was 28th in the U.S. by GDP. The state’s per capita personal income (PCPI) in 2013 was $39,848, a 1.5% increase from 2012. Oregon ranks 33rd in the U.S. by PCPI, compared to 31st in 2003. The national PCPI in 2013 was $44,765.

Oregon’s unemployment rate was 5.5% in September 2016, while the U.S. unemployment rate was 5.0% that month. Oregon has the third largest amount of food stamp users in the nation (21% of the population).

Agriculture

Oregon's diverse landscapes provide ideal environments for various types of farming. Land in the Willamette Valley owes its fertility to the Missoula Floods, which deposited lake sediment from Glacial Lake Missoula in western Montana onto the valley floor. In 2016, the Willamette Valley region produced over 100 million pounds (45 kt) of blueberries.

Oregon is also one of four major world hazelnut growing regions, and produces 95% of the domestic hazelnuts in the United States. While the history of the wine production in Oregon can be traced to before Prohibition, it became a significant industry beginning in the 1970s. In 2005, Oregon ranked third among U.S. states with 303 wineries. Due to regional similarities in climate and soil, the grapes planted in Oregon are often the same varieties found in the French regions of Alsace and Burgundy. In 2014, 71 wineries opened in the state. The total is currently 676, which represents growth of 12% over 2013.

Forestry and fisheries

Vast forests have historically made Oregon one of the nation's major timber-producing and logging states, but forest fires (such as the Tillamook Burn), over-harvesting, and lawsuits over the proper management of the extensive federal forest holdings have reduced the timber produced. Between 1989 and 2011, the amount of timber harvested from federal lands in Oregon dropped about 90%, although harvest levels on private land have remained relatively constant. Even the shift in recent years towards finished goods such as paper and building materials has not slowed the decline of the timber industry in the state.

The effects of this decline have included Weyerhaeuser's acquisition of Portland-based Willamette Industries in January 2002, the relocation of Louisiana-Pacific's corporate headquarters from Portland to Nashville, and the decline of former lumber company towns such as Gilchrist. Despite these changes, Oregon still leads the United States in softwood lumber production; in 2011, 4,134 million board feet (9,760,000 m3) was produced in Oregon, compared with 3,685 million board feet (8,700,000 m3) in Washington, 1,914 million board feet (4,520,000 m3) in Georgia, and 1,708 million board feet (4,030,000 m3) in Mississippi. The slowing of the timber and lumber industry has caused high unemployment rates in rural areas. Oregon has one of the largest salmon-fishing industries in the world, although ocean fisheries have reduced the river fisheries in recent years. Because of the abundance of waterways in the state, it is also a major producer of hydroelectric energy.

Tourism and Entertainment

Tourism is also a strong industry in the state. Tourism is centered on the state's natural features – mountains, forests, waterfalls, rivers, beaches and lakes, including Crater Lake National Park, Multnomah Falls, the Painted Hills, the Deschutes River, and the Oregon Caves. Mount Hood and Mount Bachelor also draw visitors year-round for skiing and other snow activities.

Portland is home to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the Portland Art Museum, and the Oregon Zoo, which is the oldest zoo west of the Mississippi River. The International Rose Test Garden is another prominent attraction in the city. Portland has also been named the best city in the world for street food by several publications, including the U.S. News & World Report and CNN. Oregon is home to many breweries, and Portland has the largest number of breweries of any city in the world. In Southern Oregon, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, held in Ashland, is also a tourist draw, as is the Oregon Vortex and the Wolf Creek Inn State Heritage Site, a historic inn where Jack London wrote his 1913 novel Valley of the Moon.

Oregon has also historically been a popular region for film shoots due to its diverse landscapes, as well as its proximity to Hollywood. Movies filmed in Oregon include: Animal House, Free Willy, The General, The Goonies, Kindergarten Cop, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Stand By Me. Oregon native Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, has incorporated many references from his hometown of Portland into the TV series. Additionally, several television shows have been filmed throughout the state including Portlandia, Grimm, Bates Motel, and Leverage. The Oregon Film Museum is located in the old Clatsop County Jail in Astoria.

Education

Elementary, Middle, and High School

In the 2013–2014 school year, the state had 567,000 students in public schools. There were 197 public school districts, served by 19 education service districts. In 2016, the largest school districts in the state were: Portland Public Schools, comprising 47,323 students; Salem-Keizer School District, comprising 40,565 students; Beaverton School District, comprising 39,625 students; Hillsboro School District, comprising 21,118 students; and North Clackamas School District, comprising 17,053 students. Approximately 90.5% of Oregon high school students graduate, improving on the national average of 88.3% as measured from the 2010 U.S. Census.

Colleges and Universities

Especially since the 1990 passage of Measure 5, which set limits on property tax levels, Oregon has struggled to fund higher education. Since then, Oregon has cut its higher education budget and now ranks 46th in the country in state spending per student. However, 2007 legislation funded the university system far beyond the governor's requested budget though still capping tuition increases at 3% per year. Oregon supports a total of seven public universities and one affiliate. It is home to three public research universities: The University of Oregon (UO) in Eugene and Oregon State University (OSU) in Corvallis, both classified as research universities with very high research activity, and Portland State University which is classified as a research university with high research activity.

Sports

Oregon is home to three major professional sports teams: the Portland Trail Blazers of the NBA, the Portland Thorns FC of the NWSL and the Portland Timbers of MLS.

Until 2011, the only major professional sports team in Oregon was the Portland Trail Blazers of the National Basketball Association. From the 1970s to the 1990s, the Blazers were one of the most successful teams in the NBA in terms of both win–loss record and attendance. In the early 21st century, the team’s popularity declined due to personnel and financial issues, but revived after the departure of controversial players and the acquisition of new players such as Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, and still later Damian Lillard. The Blazers play in the Moda Center in Portland’s Lloyd District, which also is home to the Portland Winterhawks of the junior Western Hockey League.

The Portland Timbers play at Providence Park, just west of downtown Portland. The Timbers have a strong following, with the team regularly selling out its games. The Timbers repurposed the formerly multi-use stadium into a soccer-specific stadium in fall 2010, increasing the seating in the process. The Timbers operate Portland Thorns FC, a women’s soccer team that has played in the National Women’s Soccer League since the league’s first season in 2013. The Thorns, who also play at Providence Park, have won two league championships, in the inaugural 2013 season and also in 2017, and have been by far the NWSL’s attendance leader in each of the league’s seasons.

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