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Human Settlement Changes Little Butte Creek Watershed

The Little Butte Creek watershed in Jackson County, Ore., has undergone many changes due to human settlement since the 1850s. The watershed extends from Howard Prairie, on the high plateau east of Ashland, down to today’s city of Eagle Point. 

The Takelma and Klamath Indians traditionally hunted on the watershed.  In the 1830s, trappers with the Hudson’s Bay Company reduced beaver populations along Little Butte Creek to the point that stream flows changed permanently.  In the 1850s, the creek attracted miners and farmers who obtained land through the Oregon Donation Land Act.  These early settlers diverted water for mining and irrigation, and introduced pigs, domestic sheep, and cattle to the meadows and grazing areas.  

Between 1870 and 1900, Howard Prairie and Owens Prairie became a “hunter’s paradise.”  Grizzlies, wolves, antelope, elk, bighorn sheep, and black bears attracted hunters from all over Southern Oregon.  By 1900, most of these animals were overhunted and exterminated, although cougars and deer still remain in the area.

In the 20th century, logging and ranching operations, increased private home sites, and water diversion to the Talent Irrigation District impacted the Little Butte Creek ecosystem.


Sources: LaLande, Jeffrey M. Environmental History: Historic Human Processes Influencing Little Butte Creek Watershed.  Rogue River National Forest and Medford District BLM, 1997. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.

Amy Couture has a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Oregon, a master’s in teacher education from Eastern Oregon University, and a master’s in history from Minnesota State University, Mankato.  A former teacher and cross-country coach, she is the author of 14 historical vignettes in the book, Astorians: Eccentric and Extraordinary.