Letters to the EditorOpinion

Oregon land bill good, not good enough

Last month, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Springfield) introduced the “Oregon Treasures” legislation in Congress that would protect many areas in Oregon. Despite the addition of more than 200,000 acres from the well-publicized Wilderness Omnibus bill earlier this year, Oregon still only has 3.7 percent of its land as wilderness.

While this may seem large, it is quite small when to compared to other western states. California has protected 14.4 percent, Washington 10.1 percent and even Idaho has protected 7.6 percent.

This begs the question, why has Oregon fallen behind in protecting the pristine areas in its borders? It is certainly not for a lack of areas that deserves protection.

The Oregon Treasures legislation would help move Oregon in the right direction for wilderness protection and focuses largely on Oregon’s Coastal Range. This range was, at one point, an incredibly lush and rugged forest. However, extensive logging has created a patchwork of clear cuts and tree farms, and very little is left as it was. There are a few areas in the range protected as wilderness, but they are not large. Nonetheless, a few gems that can be protected still remain in the Coastal Range.

One such area is the Devil’s Staircase, also known as Wassen Creek, which is near Reedsport. This area is 27,000 acres of pristine forest that has never been logged, because the area is too rugged for easy access. If any area could be called wilderness, this remote forest could. Few have explored this area for this very reason. The Devil’s Staircase would be designated as wilderness under DeFazio’s bill, which is the gold standard for wildlands protection. Another area in the legislation is the Rogue River, which is already partially protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The bill calls for an increase in protection to a total of 143 miles of the river. While this is a step in the right direction and protects this area from logging, wilderness protection should be granted to this area in the future.

The Devil’s Staircase proposal has seen broad public support and run into almost no local resistance. Unfortunately, there have been a handful of loud critics who have prevented further protection along the Rogue River, as this area has timber that is more easily accessible. In previous years, there has been strong support from the Oregon congressional delegation for protecting the Rogue. Yet, dissent from former Republican Sen. Gordon Smith kept the river in its current state.

During a time of recession, it is indeed worth discussing our natural resources and how they might best serve us. While there would be a spike in short-term revenue from logging more areas in the Rogue River, the river also generates more than $13 million in tourism annually. Eco-tourism is a fantastic renewable resource that only requires legislation to protect the areas that people enjoy. Thus, it is more economically sound to invest in long-term profits from tourism than try and garner short term cash from logging, which would both off-set future earnings for local tourism companies and diminish the quality of our public lands.

With increased public support for this legislation, we can permanently save a few of the most rugged and wild areas left on the West Coast. Please call or write your representative, or Sens. Wyden and Jeff Merkley to support DeFazio in his efforts to protect these amazing places.

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