May 13, 2021

Wyden, Merkley Reintroduce Legislation to Help Recreation and Wildfire Prevention Work in SW Oregon and Near Molalla River

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today announced the reintroduction of their legislation that would boost recreation opportunities in Southwestern Oregon and on the Molalla River in Clackamas County, while ensuring wildfire prevention work in both of those regions.

The senators’ Oregon Recreation Enhancement (ORE) Act 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.

"Oregon's rivers and treasured outdoor places are the lifeblood of our communities, providing clean drinking water for families and supporting the recreation economic engine that generates Oregon jobs," Wyden said. "Protections for these treasures and proven forest management strategies that reduce the risk of wildfire can and must go hand in hand -- and that's the approach we want to see in these communities."

“Oregon’s natural treasures have long made vital contributions to our local economies and the spirit of our state,” said Merkley. “We have a responsibility to make sure that our children and our children’s children can enjoy and rely on our public lands, just as our families do today. Let’s make this the year that we pass the Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act, so we can protect ecosystems in Southwestern Oregon and along the Molalla River from wildfires and degradation, and keep working together to preserve the beauty and health of our lands and waters for all future generations.”

The ORE Act would make the following three designations:

Molalla Recreation Area: Establish a 30,000-acre recreation area on the banks of the Molalla River in Clackamas County next to the Table Rock Wilderness Area.

Rogue Canyon Recreation Area: Establish a 98,000-ace recreation area on the banks of the Rogue River in Southwestern Oregon next to the Wild Rogue Wilderness Area.

Wild Rogue Wilderness Expansion: Expand the existing Wild Rogue Wilderness Area by about 60,000 acres. The federal land included within this expansion has been set aside by federal land managers as land that should be protected and conserved.

Each of these three proposed recreation and wilderness designations would require forest health, wildfire resiliency, and other wildfire prevention strategies in the region to continue.

The ORE Act also would permanently prevent mining on more than 100,000 acres of Forest Service land near the existing Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area. These areas are located at the headwaters of several National Wild and Scenic Rivers, and support clean drinking water for thousands of Oregonians. After much public input and local consensus, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management issued a 20-year mineral withdrawal for this area in 2016.  

“Oregonians are recreating outdoors on public lands in record numbers which supports a growing travel and outdoor recreation economy,” said David Moryc of American Rivers. “With some public lands in Oregon seeing over a 300 percent increase in the past few years, Senators Wyden and Merkley are investing in our future by conserving a few of the highest value areas for recreation in the state while maintaining wildfire preparedness.” 

“The Pew Charitable Trusts commends Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley’s leadership in bringing together business leaders, local elected officials, sportsmen and sportswomen, environmental organizations, and others to support the Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act,” said Nicole Cordan, project director, U.S. public lands and rivers conservation project, The Pew Charitable Trusts.This proposed legislation provides important land and river protections for Oregon—from creating the Rogue Canyon and Molalla recreation areas to expanding the Wild Rogue Wilderness Area. In doing so, the measure will help preserve some of Oregon’s unique and threatened lands and rivers. These natural resources are treasured by Oregonians as sources of clean drinking water and economic benefits while providing solace and unmatched backcountry experiences. Oregon’s lands and rivers drive the state’s tourism and recreation economy, and provide opportunities for people to hike, camp, fish, and hunt. This quality of life attracts retirees, skilled employees, and visitors from throughout the nation, diversifying and growing local communities.”

"The almost three-decade long effort to protect Rough and Ready Creek from industrial scale mining is the longest running struggle between public land protection and the 1872 Mining Law in Oregon,” said Barbara Ullian, Friends of the Kalmiopsis, Grants Pass. This botanically rich wild creek is beloved by all who know it and its gin clear waters. We’re so grateful to Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley for including a mineral withdrawal provision in the ORE Act that will help protect Rough and Ready Creek, the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River and the headwaters of Hunter Creek from nickel-laterite strip mining."

"The headwaters of Southwest Oregon’s wild rivers are no place for strip mining,” said Ann Vileisis, President, Kalmiopsis Audubon Society, Port Orford.They provide invaluable clean water, salmon and steelhead runs, and outstanding recreation opportunities for our communities. We’re extremely grateful for our Senators’ leadership in protecting our cherished rivers."

"I so appreciate that our Senators have reintroduced the Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act,” said Dave Lacey, South Coast Tours, Gold Beach. “My business, South Coast Tours, and my community of Gold Beach relies on clean water, salmon, and thriving ecosystems that would be imperiled by strip mining the headwaters of our Wild-Rivers-Coast streams.”

"I was raised in rural Josephine County where the Rogue and Illinois Rivers were an important part of my childhood growing up,” said Allee Gustafson, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Wilderville. The river corridors contain a lot of roadless forests, where wildlife find sanctuary and outdoor recreation enthusiasts can still find solitude. These rivers, along with the neighboring Smith River, make up a geographic grouping of Wild & Scenic rivers that attract people from around the world," "Rivers are woven into much of the social and economic fabric of rural southern Oregon. Thank you to Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley for their leadership to steward and protect these threatened watersheds and for preserving outdoor experiences that are increasingly hard to find."

A one-page summary of the bill is here.


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