March 17, 2011

More than 17,000 Acres of Wilderness to Be Preserved by Wyden, Merkley Land Swap Bill

Legislation Creates Two Wilderness Areas and Will Help Young Life Christian-Based Summer camp Better Use Land of Former Rajneeshpuram

Washington, D.C. – In an effort to preserve more than 17,000 acres of Oregon land as Wilderness, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) have reintroduced the Cathedral Rock and Horse Heaven Wilderness Act of 2011 that will swap public land with private landholders, in order to create two new wilderness sites. One of the landholders, Young Life, a Christian-based summer camp owns land once occupied by the followers of Baghwan Shree Rajneesh.

“This bill will preserve thousands of acres for wilderness protection and consolidate land ownership in ways that make sense for recreation seekers, land managers and the public’s safety,” Wyden said. “It will also see the land once owned by the Rajneeshpuram put to good use as the home of a summer camp where the next generation of Oregonians can enjoy the state’s natural beauty.”
“Preserving our natural resources, helping local landowners and boosting recreation-based jobs is an all-around winner and that is exactly what this bill will do,” said Merkley. “I look forward to working with Senator Wyden and the local communities to protect an additional 17,000 acres of natural beauty in Central Oregon.”

The legislation gives the Bureau of Land Management the authority to swap land with private local landowners in order to create two large tracts of land that can be preserved as wilderness.  The proposed Cathedral Rock Wilderness Area is on the west side of the wild and scenic John Day River, across from the Spring Basin Wilderness that was recently created. The Christian-based summer camp, Young Life, is one of three landowners that will swap land it owns adjacent to current BLM land in order to create two large swaths capable of being preserved.

Young Life’s Washington Family Ranch currently owns the land that is the former location of the City of Rajneeshpuram, which was the home of Rajneeshee leader Baghwan Shree Rajneesh.

The plan will improve public access and recreational opportunities, while also protecting many sensitive plant and animal species. The plan has won the endorsement of Wasco, Wheeler and Jefferson counties as well as local hunting, angling and boating interests.