After years of attempts, Congress has voted to protect more than 200-thousand acres of wilderness and scenic rivers in Oregon. The U-S House of Representatives passed the wilderness protection bill Wednesday. It passed the Senate last week. The vote in the House yesterday was 285 in favor, 140 against.
House vote count: “The motion is adopted, without objection, the motion to reconsider is laid on the table.”
The bill protects two million acres of wilderness nationwide.
It won unanimous support from Oregon’s Congressional delegation, but it had critics in the Northwest. Washington Republican, Doc Hastings, blasted the parliamentary tactic the Democrats used to avoid amendments. Hastings said the bill muddied issues ranging from gun possession on public lands to border security.
Rep. Doc Hastings: “On those areas where there is disagreement, in the people’s house — in the people’s house, Mr. Speaker — we should have an opportunity to discuss the differences, and then have a vote, and find out which side prevails.”
Critics also argued the bill would deprive state and local governments of taxable property. Portland-area Democrat Earl Blumenauer defended the bill.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer: “You know, the irony is, all the lands we’re talking about are publicly owned! They’re not on the tax rolls. They’ve been publicly owned since the United States first acquired them.”
Now that the House has passed the lands’ bill, it next goes to President Obama, who’s expected to sign. Assuming he does, public lands in Southwest Oregon will become the Soda Mountain Wilderness, there’ll be the new Badlands area near Bend, and the Spring Basin Wilderness along the John Day River.
But as Rob Manning reports, Oregon’s biggest chunk of newly protected wilderness is also one of its best-known landmarks.
Mount Hood was the object of years of advocacy from Oregon’s Congressional delegation. They finally succeeded. But none of them know the mountain like Kate Rogers McCarthy. Her family’s connection to Mount Hood goes back 100 years.
Kate McCarthy: “My father came here and bought land here in 19-9. And he moved out with his bride in 1910.”
Kate McCarthy has spent many of her more than 90 years on her family property between Hood River and the mountain. Two years ago, McCarthy showed me old photos of her father’s early days, as he tried to scratch out a living on the mountain’s north side.
Kate McCarthy: “And he was going to farm, you see, he planted a few trees. And the neighbors laughed at him, and told him it was too high, because it was higher than any orchard in the valley. <moving photos> And so he turned it into a lodge, called Mount Hood Lodge. <moving photos> And there you can see it, with the mountain in the background."
McCarthy says the lodge never really got off the ground. It burned down in the ‘30s. She says her Dad’s plan was to run two resort properties - the lodge, and the historic Cloud Cap Inn - if he could only get people to come.
Kate McCarthy: “He thought if he could get a road around the mountain, and acquire Cloud Cap Inn, he’d really have it made, and make a go of his, his tourism. But it was so hard to get people there, with those old-fashioned cars and the horse-and-wagons and all, he never got enough people that it really was very successful. But anyway, he acquired Cloud Cap Inn, and he had it from 1917 to ’27.”
Now, McCarthy is one of the biggest advocates for limiting road-building and resort development on the north side of the mountain. She opposed plans earlier this decade to expand the small Cooper Spur ski area into a destination resort.
Kate McCarthy: “You can have - satisfy the need for tourism in Hood River, which is already developed that way, and protect the agricultural land, and protect the high-altitude, fragile mountain ecosystem. It didn’t seem to me there was any very good reason to have it at Cooper Spur.”
Advocates like McCarthy favor wilderness protections because they bring tight, permanent rules against vehicles, logging, and development.
Conflict between development and protection thwarted Oregon’s wilderness bills two years ago. Supporters failed to overcome a block from Oklahoma Republican Senator, Tom Coburn.
At that time, there were questions about a proposed land swap to allow development on the mountain’s south side, in exchange for protecting land uphill from Kate McCarthy’s house. That trade is one step closer to reality with yesterday’s vote.
The easiest way to see north side land is by hiking through the Cooper Spur ski area - as I did, almost two years ago.
Ralph Bloemers: “The wilderness area would start right over there, about 100 yards, you know, right here where the forested edge starts.”
That’s Ralph Bloemers, with Cascade Resources Advocacy Group. He says the network of trails we climbed on the north side gives hikers - and backcountry skiers a unique look at the mountain’s plant diversity.
Ralph Bloemers: “So you can see ponderosa pine, right here, and as we move up, there will be less of them. You can see the headwaters here. From here you can see the waterfall on Polallie Canyon. Can you see that?”
Rob Manning: “Oh, wow, yeah.”
Ralph Bloemers: “So we’re going to hike up, and end up being above that waterfall. And in the wintertime a lot of people ski into Polallie Canyon, it’s about a 40 degree pitch, it’s real steep - it’s fun.”
But perhaps the most intriguing aspect is not what you ski down into, but what you hike up to. Two and a half miles uphill is a complex of historic structures, including the Cloud Cap Inn, and the Tilly Jane A-Frame.
Ralph Bloemers: “Anyone who comes in the winter - groups of 14, 15, 16 people, stay up here, overflow can stay in the cook shed. Pretty unique little pocket on Mount Hood. Certainly, you don’t find this anywhere else on the mountain. The original historic climbing route was the Sunshine Route here on the northwest face of Mount Hood. People come up the Polallie Ridge Trail, which we hiked today, in the ‘20s, stay in the cook shed, have the pancake breakfast, and then head up to Sunshine, and climb that - that was the main, historic climbing route, according to the history books.”
Since Bloemers and I hiked this area, a fire burned parts of the area - but the Cloud Cap Inn, and Tilly Jane A-Frame were spared. So, after seven years of pushing for more protections for Mount Hood - and some close calls of all kinds - advocates are celebrating.
I called Kate McCarthy after the House vote. She’d listened as the wilderness protection bill passed.
Kate McCarthy: “It was a big relief, we’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, and we’re glad it actually happened."
President Obama is expected to sign the wilderness package. McCarthy will have to wait a little longer for the Tilly Jane area to be designated a wilderness area though. The wilderness bill calls for new appraisals of the areas involved in the land exchange. The whole process should be done in the next year and a half - adding a few hundred acres to the 127-thousand acres that may soon be protected all around Mount Hood.