March 25, 2004

Prepared remarks of U.S. Senator Ron Wyden

Lewis and Clark Mount Hood Wilderness Act of 2004 proposal

Two-thousand four is a momentous year for wilderness in Oregon. It marks the 40th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act and the 20th anniversary of the last Oregon Wilderness bill (1984).But perhaps most importantly, 2004 marks the bicentennial of the single most important exploratory committee ever to be launched by this Federal government: the Lewis and Clark Expedition.I can see no better way to mark this auspicious year than by enacting a new Oregon Wilderness bill: the "Lewis and Clark Mount Hood Wilderness Act of 2004" which includes, in tribute to the great river-dependent journey of Lewis and Clark, the addition of four free-flowing stretches of rivers to the National Wild and Scenic River System.In the last few years, we have protected some of Oregon's most important treasures: * Steens Mountain is now home to 170,000 acres of wilderness; * The Little Sandy watershed is now part of the Bull Run Management Unit and will help provide drinking water for over 700,000 Oregonians; * Soda Mountain has been designated a National Monument; * Ft. Clatsop National Memorial has been expanded and this year it may be designated as Oregon's second National Park.My current draft legislative wilderness proposal takes a fresh look at protecting the lower elevation forests surrounding Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge. These forests symbolize the natural beauty of Oregon; they provide the clean water for the biological survival of threatened steelhead, Coho and Chinook salmon. These forests provide critical habitat and diverse ecosystems for elk, deer, lynx and the majestic bald eagle. And these are the forests that provide unparalleled recreational opportunities for Oregonians and our visitors.Mount Hood is the highest mountain in Oregon. Captain Clark described it as "a mountain of immense height, covered with snow" while John Muir described Mount Hood a bit more poetically as "one glorious manifestation of divine power."" Wy'East" is the American Indian name for Mount Hood. Before Lewis and Clark came to what we now know of as Oregon, these forests and the species they supported in turn supported native Indians for thousands of years. These are the forests that connect the high elevation snowfields with the rich diverse lower valleys that produce the famous salmon, which were described as so plentiful you could walk across the river on their backs.Though the history of Mount Hood and her environs are fascinating, the need to designate these areas as protected wilderness and wild and scenic rivers lie in the very modern stories of rising pressures from increased use and development.The need to protect and build on Oregon's Wilderness system is as important today as it was in 1804, 1964 or 1984 and is arguably more so. There are currently 189,200 acres of designated wilderness on the Mount Hood National Forest. This bill would almost double that amount by designating approximately 160,000 new acres of wilderness thereby hopefully lessening the pressures of overuse while finally staving off threats of development.Today, the economic role of these public lands has shifted. Communities on the highway to Mount Hood often market themselves as the "Gateway to Mount Hood" as a way to improve their tourism opportunities. And well they should: on weekends, crowds of Oregonians come out of the cities seeking a natural, and often wild, experience. In the 20 years that has elapsed since any new wilderness has been designated in the Mount Hood area (wild and scenic rivers were last set aside 16 years ago), the population in local counties has increased significantly -- 20% in Multnomah, 24% in Hood River, and 41% in Clackamas.With increasing emphasis on wild scenery, unspoiled wildlife habitats, free flowing rivers, wilderness and the need for opportunities for diverse outdoor recreation sometimes it seems we are in jeopardy of "loving our wild places to death." A few years ago, the Forest Service made a proposal to limit the number of people that could hike the south side of Mount Hood and the public outcry was enormous.Seems to me, rather than tell people that they are going to be restricted from using our public lands, the solution lies in providing more opportunities for them to enjoy our great places.I have heard from community after community that they fear a threat to their local drinking water, or the need for further protections from development. Congressional statutory designation as wilderness provides the only real protection of the historical, scientific, cultural, education, environmental, scenic, and recreational values that contribute to the quality of life of which Oregonians are so proud.The protection of these important Oregon places will depend on the hard work and dedication of all Oregonians, and particularly that of my Oregon colleagues here in the Congress. Everyone will have to pull together: county Commissioners, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, chambers of commerce, state elected officials, the governor, and the Oregon delegation here in the Capitol. I look forward to perfecting this draft legislation together in the coming weeks, and seeing its swift adoption by Congress thereafter. Then the grandeur of Mount Hood and other Oregon treasures can be assured for future generations.