September 14, 2004

Local community, mountain bikers, environmental groups supportive of Wyden wilderness bill

Witnesses at Senate hearing laud legislation, promise cooperation on Lewis and Clark Mount Hood proposal

Washington, DC At a U.S. Senate hearing today, witnesses from the Mount Hood area, mountain biking organizations, and environmental groups expressed support for the Lewis and Clark Mount Hood Wilderness Act of 2004 (S. 2723), introduced by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden in July. The hearing in the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests, on which Wyden is the top-ranked Democrat, began the Senates formal review of the wilderness bill. Wyden introduced the wilderness bill following several public forums and months of public review and discussion of his original proposal to designate additional wilderness in the Columbia River Gorge and in areas surrounding Mount Hood, as well as to designate several river segments under the Wild and Scenic River System. The Wyden legislation also includes the Mount Hood Pedalers Demonstration Experiment (Hood-PDX), a 13,000-acre area to receive protection similar to wilderness, but with a required report to Congress as to the environmental and economic effects of the project so that the areas future may be determined.I can see no better way to mark the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition than to enact a new Oregon Wilderness bill including vistas as Lewis and Clark would have seen them, said Wyden. We can give no greater gift to our children and our grandchildren than to protect the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area and Mount Hood from clearcuts and over-development.A number of witnesses at the hearing hailed the Wyden legislation and reiterated their willingness to work together for additional improvements.Sandy, Oregon is known as the Gateway to Mount Hood and its mayor, Linda Malone, testified at todays hearing, stating, At the end of the day we wont regret doing too much to protect this valuable resource but we can easily imagine regretting that we didnt do enough.Protecting these lands and the plant and animal communities that they shelter is not just a good idea, it is a great one, said Jay Ward, Conservation Director for the Oregon Natural Resources Council. And by protecting those communities, you will enrich the living human communities as well. That is why I believe the cities of Sandy and Portland and over 50 businesses surrounding the mountain support this legislation.Senators also heard particular support for the Hood-PDX mountain biking demonstration project in the Wyden bill.IMBA (the International Mountain Bicycling Association) believes that the proposed Mount Hood Pedalers Demonstration Experiment Area is a positive step forward in public land policy regarding Wilderness as it protects the land while allowing bicycling, said IMBA board member Chris DiStefano. In the 1980s land managers became concerned about the growing popularity of bicycles on trails and chose a simple but excessive solution - banning bikes. Congress can overcome this misguided conflict by supporting the approach outlined in the proposed Mount Hood Wilderness bill.We realize that the wilderness designation does limit some recreational activities. I would like to commend Senator Wyden for recognizing this, and working to include designated areas for mountain bike use, Malone said. Common sense should be applied to the implementation of protective measures.Wyden indicated again his willingness to work with all stakeholders to refine the legislation and see it passed into law.While I understand different groups and people have issues on the thinning title, on the mountain biking title, and other areas of the bill as it is currently drafted, I want to work through these issues and get a bill to the Presidents desk, said Wyden. I remain committed to working with the stakeholders and my colleagues to get a bill that is as close to perfect as possible.The legislation already includes several improvements over the original proposal, attributable to the extensive public input Wyden gathered during general public meetings in Southwest Portland and in Hood River. These changes include:Additional wildernessThrough public testimony and comments, a large number of people asked that areas around Roaring River be added to the wilderness proposal. The bill includes this area as part of the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness additions (see below).Mountain biking pilot project and more trailsBecause of Oregons increasing popularity with mountain bikers, a number of biking enthusiasts expressed concern that their recreation opportunities would be curtailed through a wilderness designation. The pilot would run for 10 years, during which time Congress could make the designation permanent. The pilot will apply to approx. 13,131 acres around Shellrock Mountain, Hell Roaring Creek and Fifteenmile Creek. Additionally, the new bill made boundary adjustments requested by the mountain biking community to keep approx. 144 miles of trails open in the Mount Hood National Forest.Fire safe community zonesSeveral comments from people living in towns on the mountain and in the gorge expressed concern about fire protection for their communities. As a result, the bill adds a buffer zone so that communities like Cascade Locks and Government Camp can take steps to protect themselves from forest fires.Mount Hood National Forest thinningDue to concerns about forest health and commercial logging, the bill includes protections for old growth trees, which are the most resistant to fire and disease, while directing the Forest Service to aggressively thin the over-crowded, plantation second-growth areas. The bill specifically authorizes funding for this activity and includes an explicit preference for local contractors from Clackamas, Hood River and Wasco counties.Mount Hood National Forest Southside Winter Recreation AreaThe bill recognizes the key need for developed recreation, like skiing, on Mount Hood by encompassing those areas on the south side that have been developed for commercial recreation in a designated Mount Hood National Forest Southside Winter Recreation Area. In addition, the bill includes a fee-retention provision that will bring permit fees back to the mountain to help fund recreation-related Forest Service management.National Commission on Urban ForestsRecognizing the unique circumstances faced by urban forests (those within 50 miles of one million or more people), the bill creates a commission to study urban forests unique challenges and report to Congress with recommendations for future management practices.The wilderness areas included in the legislation are:" Mount Hood Wilderness additions (now approx. 56,515 acres)These additions include very popular recreation areas; large cathedral old growth forests; scenic viewsheds; the oldest alpine structure in the U.S.; important habitat for deer and elk; historic lava beds; and a critical watershed for The Dalles. Included are the historic Tilly Jane trail, Lost Lake, and Mill Creek Buttes, the historic Barlow Pass and Bonney Butte, Twin Lakes, and the Lower White River." Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness additions (now approx. 34,650 acres)These additions include a viewshed of the Columbia Gorge; recreation areas; waterfalls (including the headwaters of Multnomah Falls); and wildlife habitat. McCall Point, renowned for unique species of wildflowers, is included." Badger Creek Wilderness additions (now approx. 17, 410 acres)These additions include the important transition zone between east and west side ecosystems, including old growth ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and western larch; key habitat for cutthroat trout and other wildlife; and popular recreation areas (particularly elk and deer hunting). Included are Lower Badger Creek/Jordan Creek, and Boulder Lake." Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness additions (now approx. 69,226 acres)These additions include popular recreation areas, a watershed for the City of Sandy; diverse wildlife; and viewsheds from many popular ski areas. Included are Alder Creek, Salmon River Meadows, Eagle Creek, Mirror Lake and Abbot Burn/Upper Salmon River Meadows. This area now also includes 36,000 acres of wilderness around Roaring River, which is a prized back country destination for hiking, camping, hunting, and fishing and includes habitat for bald eagle, osprey, pileated woodpecker, badger, fisher and mink, and winter range habitat for Roosevelt elk and black tailed deer. The river is home to coho salmon, spring chinook salmon, winter and summer steelhead, resident cutthroat trout, and coastal rainbow trout.The river stretches proposed for addition to the National Wild and Scenic River System include four previously proposed, plus Fifteenmile Creek:" East Fork Hood River (14.9 miles)This stretch contains highly scenic and picturesque views; popular trails to waterfalls; and steelhead and coho salmon habitat." Middle Fork Hood River (4.7 miles)This stretch contains one of a kind lava flows with unique vegetation; salmon, steelhead and bull trout habitat; and high quality riparian areas." Zigzag River (9 miles)This stretch includes the historic Barlow Road and 1930s CCC campgrounds and structures; habitat for spring chinook, coho salmon, summer and winter steelhead and resident cutthroat trout." Eagle Creek (8.3 miles)This stretch includes prime and diverse habitat for numerous species of fish and wildlife (including resident cutthroat and rainbow trout); popular areas for dispersed camping and hiking; and pristine water quality." Fifteenmile Creek (11 miles)This stretch includes old growth ponderosa pine forests, the easternmost stock of wild winter steelhead in the Columbia River basin, and habitat for diverse bird species, including bald eagles.The Lewis and Clark Mount Hood Wilderness Act of 2004 now awaits a vote by the full Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, of which Wyden is a member.