April 07, 2011

Wyden, Merkley, DeFazio Introduce Trio of Bills to Protect Natural Resources in Oregon

Bills Preserve 4,000 Acres of Oregon Caves National Monument; Designates Devil’s Staircase as Wilderness; and Protects Chetco River from Suction Dredge Mining

Washington, D.C. – Seeking protections to some of Oregon’s most valued and threatened natural resources, three Oregon lawmakers have introduced bills in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to protect and preserve the Devil’s Staircase Wilderness, the Chetco River and the Oregon Caves National Monument. U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) introduced the Devil’s Staircase Wilderness Act of 2011, the Oregon Caves Revitalization Act of 2011 and the Chetco River Protection Act of 2011.

The Oregon Caves bill transfers 4,000 acres in the Oregon Caves national monument from the National Forest Service to the National Park Service and designates the land as a Natural Preserve. The Devil’s Staircase bill designates 30,000 acres of the Siuslaw National Forest as a wilderness area and protects roughly 14 miles of the Wasson and Franklin Creeks. The Chetco mining bill protects three miles of the river from invasive mining practices.

“These areas are among Oregon’s most prized possessions and they deserve protection,” Wyden said. “Between the Oregon Caves and Devil’s Staircase legislation more than 34,000 acres of Oregon land will preserved and protected for future generations to enjoy. The Chetco bill puts a check on the horribly invasive practices of out-of-state mining companies operating in Oregon that threaten to devastate local ecosystems and wipe out breeding grounds for some of our most important fish species.”

“Oregon is home to some of the most amazing coastline, rivers, and forests on Earth,” said Merkley. “These treasures define where we live, providing outstanding recreational opportunities, clean drinking water, and economic benefits for our communities as we attract tourists from all over the world.  The legislation we are introducing today renews our state’s commitment to sustaining the vitality of these natural wonders.”

“Our beautiful state has many places that are worthy of congressional recognition,” DeFazio said.  “Having undertaken the day-long trek to the series of cascading pools that give the area its name, I can personally attest to the rugged nature and extraordinary beauty of Devil’s Staircase.  The pristine Chetco River that produces some of the best salmon fishing in the state and the marble halls of Oregon Caves are equally deserving.  I am thrilled to be able to work with the delegation to bring protection to some of Oregon’s wildest and most beautiful treasures.”

The Oregon Caves legislation expands the boundaries of the century-old national monument by transferring roughly 4,000 acres from the National Forest Service to the National Park Service and designating the land as a Natural Preserve. Setting aside this additional land will increase tourism to the largest marble cave open to the public west of the Continental Divide and encourage ecological forest restoration. The legislation also gives a scenic designation to the River Styx that travels through the caves, the nation’s first such distinction for an underground waterway.

The Devil’s Staircase legislation designates approximately 30,500 acres of the Siuslaw National Forest as a wilderness area and protects roughly 14 miles of the Wasson and Franklin Creeks. The Wilderness designation will preserve native coho and chinook salmon, trout, and steelhead runs as well as protect the habitats of wildlife like the black bear, elk, and river otter.

Identified by American Rivers as one of the nation’s most endangered rivers, the Chetco is home to salmon and steelhead breeding grounds. The process of suction dredge mining can be very hazardous to the river’s ecosystem and threatens those breeding grounds. The bill permanently raises the federal protection levels along more than three miles of the Chetco and puts in place new prohibitions on future mining that will preserve the portions of the river designated Wild and Scenic. The bill also requires current mining claims to undergo a rigorous validation process in order to maintain claims. In 2010, the Obama administration green-lighted a process that allows the Forest Service to put a freeze on all future mining claims along a portion of the river. That action and the legislation put forward today will protect the Chetco from invasive mining practices permitted under in an antiquated 1872 law allowing the practice.