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Land use | Land | Ecotrope

Oregon's stake in the lame-duck wilderness bill

There’s been a lot of speculation lately about whether Congress will pass a lame-duck Omnibus Wilderness Bill to add wilderness protections to numerous public lands across the country before less supportive politicians take their seats in January.

The New York Times reported earlier this month that the bill wasn’t likely to pass in time. Today, George Weurthner reports for New West on the wilderness proposals most likely to make it into a successful omnibus package – including Oregon’s Devil’s Staircase near Reedsport, Horse Heaven and Cathedral Rock on the John Day River, the Wild Rogue wilderness in the Siskyou Mountains, as well as Washington’s Alpine Lakes wilderness near Seattle.

As Weurthner explains:

“Voting on individual bills in the limited time left in this session means few, if any of these bills, would become law despite obvious support from Congress. As a result Senator Bingham, chair of the Senate Energy Committee, has decided to bundle as many as 60 separate bills, including many wilderness proposals into one Omnibus lands bill for passage. A similar technique was used in the 2009 Congressional session to garner wilderness designation for many areas in the country including wilderness designations in Utah, Oregon, Virginia, Michigan and California.”

The 2009 bill designated 2,000 acres of Mount Hood wilderness and a half-million acres of Idaho’s Owyhee Canyonlands, among other lands. Wilderness designations typically add restrictions on development, natural resource extraction and recreational activities to protect the ecosystem on federally owned lands.

The 2010 bill would likely include the new, 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Park in New Mexico and new wilderness areas in Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, and, the following proposals in the Pacific Northwest, Weurthner writes:

OREGON: There is one thing that the Coast Range of Oregon does well and it is grow trees—giant trees. Unfortunately most of this natural capital has been logged off. One of the few places in the Coast Range where you can see forests as they once stood in magnificent abundance is Wassen Creek drainage near Reedsport. A cascade along Wassen Creek gives rise to the name Devil’s Staircase. The Devil’s Staircase Wilderness Act, would protect 29,650 acres of wilderness in one of the most remote parts of these mountains and roughly 19 miles of Wild and Scenic River.

In eastern Oregon lies the John Day River, one of the longest undammed tributaries of the Columbia left. And as a consequence, the river is a major spawning ground for steelhead and Chinook salmon. The river flows through a wonderful canyon for much of its length that is only accessible by canoe, kayak and raft. Bordering the river are two proposed wilderness areas each of about 8,000 acres: Horse Heaven and Cathedral Rock proposed wilderness areas. Both are cloaked in lovely bunchgrass/sage a community that supports elk, mule deer, and home to endangered pygmy rabbits.

A third bill that may make its way on to the Omnibus bill is the Wild Rogue proposed wilderness. The Wild Rogue lies in southwest Oregon’s Siskiyou Mountains. Famous for whitewater rafting, and salmon/steelhead fishing, the Wild Rogue proposal would protect 58,000 acres as wilderness and 143 miles of stream as Wild and Scenic Rivers.

WASHINGTON: The Alpine Lakes Wilderness Additions and the Pratt and Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers Protection Act would add 22,000 acres to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and 10 miles of the Pratt River and 30 miles of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness is one of Washington’s most spectacular wild areas with high granite peaks and dozens of pristine mountain lakes. This legislation helps to protect a lot of the lower elevation old growth forests.”

Devil's Staircase wilderness Rogue River

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