January 15, 2009

Senate Passes Public Lands Bill

Legislation includes Seven Wyden-authored provisions to protect Oregon Wilderness and endangered species.

Washington, D.C. - Seven public lands bills authored by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) passed the Senate today by a vote of 73-21 as part of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (S.22). "The Lewis and Clark Mount Hood Wilderness Act of 2007," "The Copper Salmon Wilderness Act," "The Oregon Badlands Wilderness Act of 2008," "The Cascade Siskiyou National Monument Voluntary and Equitable Grazing Conflict Resolution Act," "The Spring Basin Wilderness Act of 2008," "The Fisheries Restoration and Irrigation Mitigation Act of 2008" and "The Watershed Restoration and Enhancement Agreements Act of 2007" had been held up during the 110th Congress by opposition from Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), but a Sunday vote on the bill achieved enough votes in favor of the legislation to override his objections.

"Whether you hunt, hike, fish, or simply share pride in the unparalleled nature of Oregon, this is a day to celebrate," said Wyden. "While I am proud to have authored these bills, I also have to give credit to Senator Smith, my original my partner in the development of this wilderness legislation, as well as my thanks to Senator Merkley for his help in finally pushing the Senate across the finish line."

The Wyden-authored provisions included in the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009:

The Lewis and Clark Mount Hood Wilderness Act of 2007 was originally introduced by Senator Wyden in 2004 and following months of public review and discussion, was modified and reintroduced with Senator Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) in 2006 and again in 2007. Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.) championed a House version of the bill. The Act includes input from more than 600 constituents who attended two public forums, as well as input from more than 1700 constituents, as well as Oregon's entire congressional delegation, Governor Kulongoski, the Bush administration and over 100 community groups. The bill preserves almost 127,000 acres around Mount Hood with Wilderness protection and adds almost 80 miles on nine free-flowing stretches of rivers to the National Wild and Scenic River System. In addition, it establishes a Richard A. Kohnstamm Memorial Area, honoring the "father" of Timberline Lodge. Maps of the areas protected with this legislation can be found at: http://wyden.senate.gov/issues/Mt.%20Hood/Maps.cfm.

"Mount Hood isn't just a symbol of Oregon, it's a monument to the deep connection Oregonians have to their land," said Wyden. "This bill is a triumph of environmental protection that wouldn't have been possible without the input of constituents, community groups, and elected leaders who cared enough to keep fighting for it."

The Cascade Siskiyou National Monument Voluntary and Equitable Grazing Conflict Resolution Act was a bipartisan solution developed by Smith and Wyden after lengthy discussions between ranchers and conservationists to authorize the permanent retirement of grazing allotments within the Monument. It also establishes a 23,000-acre Wilderness area, to be known as the Soda Mountain Wilderness, in the Monument's southern backcountry. Maps of the areas protected with this legislation can be found at http://wyden.senate.gov/newsroom/BLM-Deerfield Swap-final4.pdf; http://wyden.senate.gov/newsroom/ProposedCSNMWilderness_050508.pdf; http://wyden.senate.gov/newsroom/Proposed_Rowlett_Land_Exchange 6-13-06.pdf

"The protections this bill gives to the Cascade Siskyou region will help ensure that this 'Noah's Ark of botanical diversity' can remain undisturbed and healthy," said Wyden. "With bipartisan leadership and some extremely dedicated work from people within the community, we now have a homegrown solution that serves the public interest."

The Oregon Badlands Wilderness Act of 2008 designates almost 30,000 acres of Wilderness 15 miles east of Bend. The Wilderness designation comes over two decades after the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recommended the area be preserved. The legislation protects this unique and treasured high desert plateau from mining and geothermal leasing as well as encroaching off road vehicles. Maps of the areas protected with this legislation can be found at: http://wyden.senate.gov/newsroom/BadlandsSept3.pdf

"Environmental protection doesn't have to come at the expense of economic growth, and this bill will prove it. It preserves the unique landscapes that bring visitors to the Badlands, and will add to the growing value of Bend's brand as being one of the best places in the country to enjoy outdoor recreation, live, work and raise a family," said Wyden.

The Spring Basin Wilderness Act of 2008 designates approximately 8,600 acres of BLM land as the Spring Basin Wilderness, overlooking the John Day Wild and Scenic River. The area is important habitat for populations of Mule Deer, Rocky Mountain Elk and many bird species, and offers recreational opportunities for hikers, horseback riders, hunters, botanists and other outdoor enthusiasts. Maps of the areas protected with this legislation can be found at: http://wyden.senate.gov/newsroom/SpringBasinSept3.pdf

The Copper Salmon Wilderness Act was forged from years of Wyden's work with members of the local community in Southern Oregon, which is renowned among fishermen as one of the last intact watersheds near the Southwest Oregon Coast. The bill designates 9.3 miles of rivers at the headwaters of the North Fork of the Elk River as Wild and Scenic and adds 13,700 acres of new wilderness adjacent to the existing Grassy Knob Wilderness. The Elk River is known as the most productive wild salmon and steelhead river of its size in the lower 48 states. Maps of the areas protected with this legislation can be found at: http://wyden.senate.gov/newsroom/proposed_wild_dec7.pdf

"Copper Salmon is one of those places that crystalizes Oregon's reputation as an outdoor paradise," said Wyden. "This bill will give crucial protections to the area's wildlife and to the prized salmon and steelhead that attract anglers from across the globe."

Fisheries Restoration and Irrigation Mitigation Act of 2008 was first introduced by Sen. Wyden in the 109th Congress. The bill would extend a highly successful federal program that splits the cost of constructing fish screens and other measures that protect salmon and other endangered fish species in the Columbia River Basin between the Federal Government and irrigation districts until the year 2015.

The Watershed Restoration and Enhancement Agreements Act of 2007 gives the Secretary of Agriculture permanent authority to use Forest Service funding to work with government, private, and nonprofit entities and landowners to protect, restore, and enhance fish and wildlife habitat. This would make permanent the "Wyden Authority" set to expire in 2012.

Wyden chairs the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests, with primary jurisdiction over wilderness legislation. Even prior to his committee chairmanship, he had been a long-time advocate for preserving natural areas of the state for both economic and environmental protection reasons. The uniqueness of Oregon's natural landscapes and public lands has been an economic driver for many areas of the state, especially rural communities. The state has seen economic support come to such communities from enthusiasts of camping, hiking, mountain-biking and skiing.