May 17, 2023

Wyden, Merkley Advance Key Outdoor Recreation Priorities for Oregon

Washington, D.C. – As Oregonians gear up for the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources today advanced on a bipartisan vote bills authored by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley that would make the outdoors more accessible, support the recreation economy, protect drinking water for thousands of Oregonians, and ensure essential wildfire prevention work.

“Oregon is home to some of the most treasured outdoor spaces in our nation, allowing Oregonians and visitors from all over the world to enjoy hiking, rafting, fishing, and other outdoor adventures,” said Wyden, who is the lead sponsor for the ORE Act and Recreation Not Red Tape Act. “The jobs and money generated by outdoor recreation is essential to many rural economies in Oregon. I’m glad my colleagues on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee agree and decided to protect more of Oregon’s rivers and public lands and make them more accessible. I want to see these bills signed into law and will keep fighting to make that happen.”

“When we come together to protect our state’s natural wonders, we can create jobs, protect resources, grow our economy, and make sure future generations of Oregonians can enjoy our incredible public lands,” said Merkley, who is the lead sponsor of the Smith River National Recreation Area Expansion Act. “Committee passage of these three critical bills is a commonsense win-win-win for our economy, adventurers across the Northwest, and those dedicated to preserving the ecosystems that make Oregon so special.”

The Committee passed the senators’ Oregon Recreation Enhancement (ORE) Act, which would create the Rogue Canyon Recreation Area and the Molalla Recreation Area, expand the Wild Rogue Wilderness Area, and prohibit destructive mining on pristine rivers in Southwestern Oregon. The recreation and wilderness designations would also require forest health, wildfire resiliency, and other wildfire prevention strategies in the region to continue.

It also approved key provisions of the Recreation Not Red Tape Act, including encouraging military branches to inform service members and veterans of outdoor recreation opportunities, making purchasing public land passes and paying fees easier by putting them online, and increasing volunteerism to address the maintenance backlog of America's public lands.

Additionally, Merkley and Wyden’s legislation to expand the Smith River National Recreation Area to Oregon passed the Committee. The expanded National Recreation Area will include 58,000 acres of the North Fork Smith River watershed including tributaries which contain coho and Chinook salmon, and Coastal Cutthroat trout. In addition, the legislation would task the Forest Service with the preparation of an updated recreation plan identifying specific plans for the entire National Recreation Area, and produce a special study of streams, fens, wetlands, and potentially unstable and vulnerable aquatic habitat areas.

“We’re thrilled to learn that Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley’s Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act got a big bipartisan vote of approval from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today and that it includes a provision to help protect Rough and Ready Creek from mining,” said Barbara Ullian, long time Josephine County resident. “The locally driven effort to protect this botanically-rich beloved wild creek and the clean clear water it provides to the Illinois Valley has spanned decades and our Senators have been there for us throughout.”

“I’ve spent my career floating, photographing, and writing about rivers all across America, and so I know that Oregon’s rivers are some of our nation’s very best,” said Tim Palmer, author of Field Guide to Oregon Rivers (Port Orford, Ore.). “I applaud Senator Wyden for advancing the Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act to protect headwaters of Southwestern Oregon’s outstanding collection of Wild and Scenic rivers, including the Rogue, Illinois and North Fork Smith. These are national treasures that provide outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities – fishing, hiking, boating, and camping—as well as for clean drinking water for communities. Senator Wyden knows that we Oregonians love our rivers!”

“The Wild & Scenic Rogue River has a rich human history to accompany its wild nature, and we would like to thank Senators Wyden and Merkley for getting their Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee,” said Michael Dotson, Executive Director at the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “This bill enhances outdoor recreation by establishing two new National Recreation Areas in western Oregon's public forests, including a new Rogue Canyon National Recreation Area in rural Josephine County. Adjacent to the Rogue, this bill also prioritizes conservation in the Wild & Scenic Illinois and North Fork Smith River watersheds, permanently protecting these waterways from mining threats and mineral speculation. Local communities and bipartisan elected leaders in southwest Oregon have supported these measures to protect clean water and enhance outdoor recreation for residents and visitors alike.”

“The Wild Rivers Coast and rivers like the Smith are legendary among anglers for their steelhead and salmon fisheries,” said Dean Finnerty, NW Regional Director, Angler’s Conservation Project, Trout Unlimited. “This region supports a robust sport fishing economy that is vitally important for many rural communities. Sen. Merkley’s bi-partisan Smith River National Recreation Area Expansion Act is a sensible and timely way to honor the sporting heritage of this region and to conserve the cold, clean, fish-filled waters that are the hallmark of this part of America.”

"Oregon's North Fork Smith watershed is a botanical treasure and should have always been a part of the Smith River National Recreation Area," said Joseph Vaile, Climate Director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. "We thank Senator Merkley for introducing this legislation that will also designate many of the North Fork Smith River's cold-water tributaries as Wild & Scenic. Anyone who has had a chance to explore the remote, primitive backcountry of Oregon's North Fork Smith headwaters knows that it is one of the most spectacular rivers in the world."

"The Smith River is recognized as one of the premier salmon strongholds on the West Coast,” said Guido Rahr, President and CEO of the Wild Salmon Center. "We’re grateful to Senators Merkley and Wyden for this investment in wild salmon and the coastal communities that depend on them. Protecting the Smith's cold, clean flows across the entire watershed will secure this place for people and fish for generations to come."

The bills now go to the full Senate for consideration.


Contact: Nicole L'Esperance (Wyden)

Martina McLennan (Merkley)