Less than a week after President Trump signed the Oregon Wildlands Act into law (as one of many bills in the John D. Dingell, Jr., Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act), Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-3rd-OR) convened an Oregon Public Lands Forum on Monday, March 18, 2019.
The forum was held in the Mazama Mountaineering Center, a repurposed Masonic lodge in southeast Portland now graced with indoor rock-climbing walls.. The Mazamas is a 125-year-old nonprofit mountaineering education organization. Perhaps it was the Masonic-era stained-glass windows and, but the forum soon took on the feel of a revival meeting where the congregants and the preachers sang the praises of Oregon’s wildlands and their irreplaceable value for ecosystem services, outdoor recreation, and spiritual re-creation.
Representatives of many Oregon outdoor recreation industry heavyweights, including but not limited to Columbia Sportswear, the Conservation Alliance, Travel Oregon, and Keen Footwear, testified to the business sense of conserving more of the many treasures found on Oregon’s federal public lands. Many conservationists traveled from afar to make the case for protecting their most cherished Oregon gems for the benefit of this and future generations.
Ron and Earl want to go big, and they will not be going home. They made it clear that the time is now to begin to navigate the legislative maze to enact into law an Oregon Wildlands Act 2.0. I suspect that many (but not all) of the rest of the Oregon congressional delegation will join with Wyden and Blumenauer in this effort.
It’s an exciting time for Oregon public lands conservation, in both relative and absolute terms. The enactment of the Oregon Wildlands Act was a vital breath of fresh air coming out of the present toxic swamp of Washington, DC. In absolute terms, in all likelihood the Oregon Wildands Act 2.0 could be the largest Oregon public lands conservation legislation ever to be enacted into law.
I will close this post by reprinting the memorandum I prepared for the forum. While in my allotted two minutes I was able to highlight only some of the many top lines, I did pass the memo on to Ron’s and Earl’s capable staff members. If I didn’t note your favorite Oregon treasure in need of congressional conservation, it’s because I limited myself to four pages and simply couldn’t list them all. All the more reason for you to step up and ask for it!
You can/should/must ask for the elevation of the conservation status of federal public lands in Oregon by submitting an online comment to Rep. Blumenauer and Sen. Wyden. Your comments can be general or specific, long or short. Share your thoughts, hopes, dreams, and fears about the irreplaceable wildlife, fish, plants, scenery, re(-)creation, natural infrastructure, carbon storage, water quality, water quantity, and more on Oregon's public lands.
Comments will be taken until June 18, 2019, but don't delay, lest you forget. Click on the link now. This could be the start of something big.
Thank you, Senator Wyden and Representative Blumenauer, for doing this Oregon Public Lands Forum.
Senator, thank you for bringing home the Oregon Wildlands Act of 2019. It is a very important piece of Oregon public lands conservation legislation, though I must say not the largest ever enacted for Oregon. Perhaps your emerging effort can exceed Senator Hatfield’s high-water mark of 1984.
Senator and Congressman, thank you both for your public lands conservation work that culminated in 2009, especially where you cooperated on protecting special places on the Mount Hood National Forest and some other key areas around Oregon. Thank you both for your work that culminated in 2000, where you cooperated to bring home the Steens Mountain Act.
Oregon’s federal public lands have no shortage of treasures worthy of—and in need of—congressional protection for the benefit of this and future generations. I want to highlight some top-line themes that I hope you will keep in mind as you develop legislation.
1. Overarching Congressional Conservation Designations with Underlying Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers, Where Appropriate
Please consider establishing many national what-have-you areas. The “what-have-you” could be recreation, scenic, protection, monument, salmon, salmon and botanical, botanical, scenic-research, scenic recreation, etc.—and where appropriate, underlying these national what-have-you areas should be wilderness areas and wild and scenic rivers. Here’s one example: an Elk River National Salmon Area.
2. National Recreation Areas as the Ranger Districts of the 21st Century
Our public lands in this century should be organized around the conservation and restoration of nature with an emphasis on compatible recreation. Timber cutting and livestock grazing on the federal forests is so twentieth century. You should consider expanding Oregon’s existing or adjacent NRAs (e.g. Mount Hood, Hells Canyon, Oregon Dunes, and Smith River), as well as establishing new ones (including but not limited to Ochoco Mountains, Oregon Cascades, Clackamas, McKenzie, Rogue Canyon, Molalla, and others).
3. New and Expanded National Wilderness Preservation System Units
There are ~2 million acres of Forest Service Inventoried Roadless Areas and ~2.6 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wilderness Study Areas. All should be added to the National Wilderness Preservation System or otherwise congressionally conserved. There are also agency-recommended potential wilderness areas on National Park System and National Wildlife Refuge System lands in Oregon. There are millions of acres of de facto wilderness-quality lands that the federal land agencies have refused to recognize.
Here are a few of my favorites (including but not limited to): (1) additions to the Drift Creek, Rogue-Umpqua Divide, Hells Canyon, Middle Santiam, Grassy Knob, Wild Rogue, North Fork John Day, Mount Thielsen, and Kalmiopsis wilderness areas, and (2) establishment of new wilderness areas for Deadhorse Rim, Coleman Rim, Bulldog Rock, Limpy Rock, Joseph Canyon, Metolius Breaks, Hellhole, North Fork Malheur River, Wellington Wildlands, North Warners, Yamsay Mountain, Mount Hebo, Dakubetede, Abert Rim, South Fork John Day, Alvord Desert, Diablo Mountain, Trout Creek Mountains, and Owyhee Canyonlands.
I don’t have to tell you that most of Oregon’s wilderness areas were established by Congress over the objections of the land management agency.
To aid your consideration of additional Oregon wilderness areas, I’m giving each of you copies of my two books, both of which are directly on topic: Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes (The Mountaineers Books, 2000) and Oregon Wild: Endangered Forest Wilderness (Timber Press, 2004).
4. New and Expanded National Wild and Scenic Rivers System Units
There are numerous worthy potential additions to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System—both new streams and also both tributary and mainstem additions to existing wild and scenic rivers, including but not limited to the Molalla and the Nestucca, streams around the Oregon Caves, and filling a half-mile gap so as to fully protect the White Wild and Scenic River from its glacier on Mount Hood to the Deschutes River.
5. New and Expanded National Park System Units
Crater Lake National Park should be expanded. Does Oregon have only one national park–quality landscape? No. The Oregon Redwoods, Steens Mountain, the Owyhee Canyonlands come immediately to mind.
Does Oregon have only three national monument–quality landscapes? No. New national monuments should be established to protect the extraordinary geological wonders of the Fort Rock Lava Beds, Diamond Craters, and Jordan Craters. The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument should be expanded to include comparable-quality adjacent BLM lands.
There should be a Douglas Fir National Monument, as there already are national parks or national monuments centered on iconic charismatic megaflora such as bald cypress, Joshua tree, coast redwood, giant sequoia, saguaro cactus, and organ pipe cactus.
6. New and Expanded National Wildlife Refuge System Units
The Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex should become more complex by the addition of new and the expansion of existing national wildlife refuges. Lake Abert in the Oregon Desert should be a national wildlife refuge. The Hart Mountain and Sheldon refuges should be expanded to include the entire biological unit of one of the American West’s most magnificent populations of pronghorn.
7. New and Expanded National Forest System Units
For example, the exterior boundary of the Siuslaw National Forest should be re-expanded to encompass the Elliott State Forest with an eye toward returning the Elliott State Forest to the Siuslaw National Forest from whence it came.
8. New and Expanded Oregon National Scenic Trails
It’s time to establish both the Desert Trail and the Oregon Desert Trail as national scenic trails. National scenic trails, like national wild and scenic rivers, ought to have a protective corridor, such as the Wyden-Merkley proposal for the Bureau of Land Management portion of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.
9. Expanding Other Existing Congressional Conservation Areas in Oregon
Congress should consider expansions of the Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, and other previously established congressional conservation areas. Most such additions won’t be large in acreage but would include important adjacent public lands that—though outside the protective boundary—contribute to the special values of the area.
10. Withdrawing Oregon’s Wild and Scenic Rivers from Mining
All of the new and expanded wild and scenic rivers established in the Oregon Wildlands Act of 2019 are completely withdrawn from mining. The default setting of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 is that only wild-classified segments are withdrawn. It’s time to protect the scenic- and recreational-classified sections of Oregon’s wild and scenic rivers from the threat of mining. Of Oregon’s 2,162 miles of WSRs, only 48 percent (over 1,000 miles) are open to mining.
11. Oregon Scenic Waterways and National Wild and Scenic Rivers
While many Oregon scenic waterways overlap with federal wild and scenic river designations, many do not. Congress should add all state scenic waterways to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Only in this way can it be assured that any federal lands within the state scenic waterways are managed for conservation and recreation and that no federal dam or federal license for a hydroelectric damn dam despoils them.
12. Congressionally Designated Outstanding Natural Areas
In 1980, Senator Hatfield established the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. In 2005, Congress established the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area in Florida.
Congress should establish several ONAs in Oregon to protect outstanding stands of old-growth forest and other extraordinary natural features. ONAs can afford protection to areas not suitable for the usual congressional conservation designations.
Examples of extraordinarily outstanding old-growth forests include the Valley of the Giants, High Peak–New Moon, North Fork Wilson River (and Kilchis Creek), and Crabtree Valley. An Upper Willamette Valley Margin Outstanding Natural Area could protect relic examples of natural ecosystems once common to Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
13. BLM Areas of Critical Environmental Concern
Almost all of Oregon’s ACECs on BLM lands are open to mining. Congress should withdraw them from the mining laws and also make them national conservation lands as part of the National Landscape Conservation System.
14. Rationalizing Federal Public Land Management in Oregon
The Mount Hood Corridor should be transferred to the Forest Service from the BLM. The Gerber Block of BLM lands in eastern Klamath County should become part of the Fremont-Winema National Forest. BLM lands in western Oregon should be transferred mostly to the Forest Service to become part of the National Forest System and the remainder to the Fish and Wildlife Service to become part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
15. Withdrawing from Mining a Multitude of Administrative Conservation Designations on Federal Lands
Countless administratively designated areas established for the conservation of natural, historical, and cultural values—e.g. research natural areas, special interest areas, unusual interest areas, historic areas, scenic areas, geologic areas, botanical areas, zoological areas, paleontological areas, etc.—are open to mining. Congress should permanently withdraw these areas from the application of the federal mining laws.
16. Comprehensive Congressional Conservation, Not Just Mineral Withdrawals
The twenty-year administrative mineral withdrawals for the South Kalmiopsis and Greater Red Flat areas on and near the Rogue River–Siskiyou National Forest need to be superseded by permanent congressional mineral withdrawals, which is what Senator Wyden’s Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act would do. However, that bill would protect the watersheds and salmon just from mining. It wouldn’t protect the extraordinarily spectacular values from off-road vehicle damage, roads, logging, grazing, and other activities harmful to salmon and other natural and recreational values. Rather than just legislating a mineral withdrawal, please: (1) expand the Smith River National Recreation Area into Oregon; (2) establish an Illinois Valley National Salmon and Botanical Area; and (3) designate a Greater Red Flat National Salmon and Botanical Area.
17. Comprehensive Protection for Older (Mature and Old-growth) Forests
It may not be in this next bill, but don’t forget to comprehensively and congressionally protect Oregon’s remaining older (mature and old-growth) forests before you leave office. For eastside older forests, Senator Wyden’s eastside forest legislation still has a way to go. For westside older forests, the protections in the Wyden-Merkley Oregon and California Land Grant Act of 2014 offer a viable approach. Protecting and restoring older forests can aid both the mitigation of and adaption to climate change.
Thank you for your consideration.
Fig. 2. After a long absence, the gray wolf has returned to Oregon and is gradually reinhabiting wildlands, both protected and unprotected, across the state.Source: George Wuerthner. Previously appeared in Oregon Wild: Endangered Forest Wilderness (Timber Press, 2004), by the author.
Fig. 3. Yet to return to Oregon is the grizzly bear. When it does, it will certainly need large areas of protected wildlands. Source: George Wuerthner. Previously appeared in Oregon Wild: Endangered Forest Wilderness (Timber Press, 2004), by the author.