Kathryn B. Brown

As the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on with the delta variant emerging in Oregon this summer, the 2020 U.S. Census numbers were released, triggering the need to redraw lines and create new legislative districts.

Oregon’s population increased by a little more than 10% between 2010 and 2020, a population gain of 392,894 — bringing the state to a total of 4,241,500. We’ve gained one U.S. congressional district, which is a big deal.

In a perfect world, those redrawing legislative district lines would not look at Oregon through a political lens. Really, the ideal way to create multiple districts with equal populations is through knowledge of the physical and human geography of the state.

Physical geography takes into consideration Oregon’s mountain ranges — the Cascades, Coast Range, Blue Mountains, the Wallowas and Steens Mountains to name a few, as well as our biggest rivers — Willamette, Clackamas,  Santiam, McKenzie, Umpqua, Rogue, Deschutes, Crooked, John Day, Umatilla, Grande Ronde and Owywee. These mountains and rivers divide Oregon into distinct regions connected by common landscapes and climates.

Human geography looks at cultural, social and economic aspects that unite different regions. (It can also include political patterns, but for redistricting purposes, it’s best to take these out of consideration.)

Thinking about geographical regions in human terms means answering difficult questions like this one: Does Brookings, on the southern Oregon coast, have more in common with Astoria — both coastal towns with wood products, fishing and tourism industries and terrific restaurants but 430 miles apart — or with Grants Pass? Grants Pass, also in southern Oregon, is much closer as the crow flies, but being on the other side of the Coast Range makes it difficult to travel to from Brookings without going into California.

Let’s leave redistricting to the geographers rather than the politicians. All of Oregon would be better served.

— Kathryn B. Brown

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