Wilderness bills — again

Wyden’s chairmanship could help win approval

February 16, 2013  

The Register-Guard

In a move reminiscent of the movie “Groundhog Day,” Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley introduced a flurry of wilderness bills this week that were nearly identical to measures introduced in the last session. And the one before that. And the one before that.

The measures would give some of Oregon’s wildest and most beautiful forests and rivers permanent wilderness status ­— the highest layer of protection the law can confer. Similar bills have died in past sessions because of opposition from conservatives who insist that the country already has enough wilderness, that such proposals close off public lands to resource extraction, and that wilderness is a waste of tax dollars.

Never mind that the proposals have bipartisan support in Oregon, and that the benefits to the state’s recreation industry would offset any loss of revenue from logging or other development on public lands. Never mind that wilderness areas cost the government little money. And never mind that Oregon has a relatively small amount of land designated as wilderness — only 4 percent of the state is protected under the Wilderness Act, compared with 15 percent of California.

The bills would expand the Wild Rogue Wilderness and Oregon Caves National Monument in southwestern Oregon, create new wilderness along the John Day River in Central Oregon, and create the Devil’s Staircase Wilderness to protect old growth forest in the Coast Range on the Siuslaw National Forest. They also would elevate Wild and Scenic Rivers Act protections for the Chetco River in southwestern Oregon and the Molalla River south of Portland.

Similar wilderness provisions are also part of a proposal introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio for logging and preservation in Western Oregon’s federal forests that would increase federal logging revenues for timber counties. The introduction of the wilderness proposals as separate bills could enhance their prospects of passage if the DeFazio bill fails to pass.

Another factor that could help is Wyden’s ascension to the chairmanship of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where he may be able to use his influence to attach them to energy measures or perhaps an omnibus public lands bill.

One way or another, Congress should protect these treasures — and ensure there are no more wilderness Groundhog Days in future sessions.

Link to story in Register Guard http://www.registerguard.com/web/news/sevendays/29451088-47/wilderness-oregon-bills-introduced-lands.html.csp