Devil's Staircase (photo by Andrew Kumler)

Press Release: U.S. Senate Passes Bills Protecting Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers in Oregon

For Immediate Release
February 12, 2019

David Moryc, American Rivers, 503-307-1137
Zach Collier, Northwest Rafting Company, 541-399-6442

Measures part of public lands package will designate wilderness and wild and scenic rivers in Oregon and to honor legendary stewards of the North Umpqua River

[Eugene, OR] — Today, the U.S. Senate passed the Natural Resources Management Act (S. 47), a public lands package that includes the Oregon Wildlands Act (S. 1548), the Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Special Management Area Designation Act (S. 513/H.R. 1308), the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and other bipartisan public lands bills. The Act now heads to the U.S. House of Representatives, where public lands users across the country are hopeful it will quickly pass.

“Oregon is the Wild and Scenic Rivers state, and I’m exceptionally proud that we’re adding more watersheds and more miles of National Wild and Scenic Rivers”, said Zach Collier, owner of Northwest Rafting Company. “The Chetco and Elk Rivers are particularly important to me and I’m happy to see increased protection to these exceptional watersheds. I want to thank Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley for their leadership in passing this through the Senate, and I urge the House to swiftly move to pass this public lands package now.”

The Oregon bills have been pending in Congress for years despite broad public support from Oregonians across the state, including hunters and anglers, business owners, veterans, community leaders, and conservationists. The bills will protect some of Oregon’s most unique lands and rivers that are treasured by Oregonians as sources of clean drinking water, for their economic benefits derived from outdoor recreation, and for their wilderness character that provides a unique backcountry experience.

“The importance of the Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Sanctuary cannot be overstated, and our Senators understand that. When we are asked to fight for our country overseas, this is the country in our minds, and generations of veterans have been fighting here to protect it starting with Frank Moore,” added Sean Davis, a veteran from McKenzie Bridge, OR.

The Oregon Wildlands Act was introduced by Senators Wyden and Merkley and will designate the approximately 30,000-acre Devil’s Staircase Wilderness in the Oregon Coast Range northeast of Reedsport and safeguard 303 miles of rivers, including nearly 256 miles as Wild and Scenic Rivers, including the Molalla and Elk Rivers and tributaries to the lower Rogue River. The bill will also permanently withdraw portions of the salmon-rich Chetco River, the drinking water source for the City of Brookings, from mining claims. U.S. Representatives Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader have also been steadfast champions of the protections in the reintroduced bill located within their congressional districts.

The Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Special Management Area Act would permanently safeguard an area in the North Umpqua basin that contains some of the best wild steelhead spawning areas in the Pacific Northwest and honor Frank Moore, a World War II veteran, and his wife of over 70 years, who are both legendary stewards of the North Umpqua.

“As an avid equestrian and member of the Backcountry Horsemen of Oregon and Oregon Equestrian Trails groups, I am thrilled about the designation of the Molalla River as a Wild and Scenic River,” said Becky Wolf of Molalla, Oregon. “Senators Wyden and Merkley and Representative Schrader have championed protections for the outstanding recreation and clean drinking water the river provides for over 10 years and their hard work paid off.”

Western Oregon boasts some of the most biologically diverse and undeveloped lands in the nation. From free-flowing rivers teeming with salmon to deep ancient forests to plants seen nowhere else on the planet, the area offers people a place to relax and listen to hidden waterfalls, and raft and fish in wild rivers. 

Passage of these bills will be a boon to local economies. Visitors from across the country and around the globe come to explore and enjoy Western Oregon’s outstanding fishing, rafting, hiking, and other outdoor recreation opportunities. The Outdoor Industry Association recently found that outdoor recreation in Oregon generates $16.4 billion in consumer spending, 172,000 jobs, $5.1 billion in wages and salaries and $749 million in state and local tax revenue.

The protections in this bill including Wild and Scenic River and Wilderness designations that specifically allow for continued access, hunting, and fishing. Nothing in this bill curtails fighting wildfire or fuels reduction.

The Oregon Wildlands Act builds on a rich legacy of river and wilderness conservation in Oregon. Oregonians hope to continue building on this legacy by protecting more of Oregon’s spectacular natural treasures.

The Natural Resources Management Act (S.47) now awaits a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. Community members across Oregon are urging the House to pass the bill.

*** photo of Devil’s Staircase (credit: Andrew Kumler Photography)