February 15, 2023

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 reintroduced 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 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 public lands are the heart and soul of our state. These treasured places generate jobs in rural communities, and continue to be the source of clean drinking water," said Wyden. "By ensuring conservation and fire mitigation go hand in hand, this legislation builds on the Oregon Way of coming together to protect these treasures for generations to come.”

“These areas are among Oregon’s most breathtaking landscapes and are vital in supporting the state’s economy and in addressing climate chaos,”?Merkley said.?Protecting these natural areas not only fuels a robust outdoor recreation economy, but is also a part of who we are as Oregonians. It is our responsibility to protect these lands and headwaters from degradation and mining, increasingly intense wildfires, and other damaging impacts. Our lands and waters are our greatest resource, and it’s on us to ensure they are passed down to future generations in good shape.” 

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-acre 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 identified 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 irresponsible mining on more than 100,000 acres of Forest Service land near the existing Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area. These areas are 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.  

A one-pager on the legislation is here.

Bill text is here.

“As the owner of a recreation-based business, I really appreciate our Senators’ leadership in reintroducing the Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act,” said Dave Lacey, owner of South Coast Tours in Gold Beach. “My business and my community rely on clean water, salmon, and thriving ecosystems—all of which would be wrecked by strip mining at the headwaters of the streams that earn our region its name: America’s Wild Rivers Coast.”

“Oregonians and visitors are recreating outdoors on our public lands like never before, supporting a growing outdoor recreation industry,” said David Moryc of American Rivers. “Senators Wyden and Merkley are ensuring the special places in our state that draw people from near and far, including the Rogue and Molalla Rivers, will remain special for generations to come.” 

“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 craft the Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act,” said Brett Swift, senior manager with Pew’s U.S. public lands and rivers conservation project. “This legislation provides important protections for some of the most threatened lands and rivers in Oregon. These unique natural resources are treasured by Oregonians as sources of clean drinking water, unmatched opportunities for hiking, fishing, and hunting, and economic engines that drive the state’s tourism and recreation economy.”

“My outfitting business offers rafting trips on both the Wild and Scenic Illinois and Rogue Rivers so I know firsthand that Southwest Oregon’s rivers are some of the nation's very best and also how outdoor recreation supports the local economy” said Zach Collier of Northwest Rafting Company. "To conserve these remarkable recreation experiences these rivers provide, we need to protect their headwaters into the future. I applaud Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley for their efforts to pass the Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act to protect southwest Oregon’s rivers from the threats of strip mining."

"The headwaters of Southwest Oregon’s wild and scenic rivers are no place for strip mining,” said Ann Vileisis, President of Kalmiopsis Audubon Society in Port Orford. “These special rivers happen to be in our ‘public-lands backyard,’ but they are truly national treasures! They provide clean water for local communities, salmon runs that draw anglers from afar, and many other terrific recreation opportunities. We appreciate Senator Wyden’s and Merkley’s leadership and work toward protecting the cherished wild rivers of our ‘Wild Rivers Coast.’”

"The effort to protect Rough and Ready Creek has spanned three decades,” said Barbara Ullian of Friends of the Kalmiopsis in Grants Pass. “This wild and botanically-rich creek is utterly unique, beloved by all who know it—it’s also the headwaters of the exceptional National Wild and Scenic Illinois and Rogue rivers. We’re grateful to Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley for including a mineral withdrawal provision in the ORE Act that will not only help protect the headwaters of our cherished wild rivers but also the clean drinking water of thousands in downstream communities from the pollution and irreversible impacts of industrial scale strip mining."

"Being raised in rural Josephine County, I spent a lot of time on the Rogue and Illinois Rivers growing up,” said Allee Gustafson of Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Central Point. “These amazing rivers are places where people can recreate in many different ways—from swimming to boating and fishing. But it goes deeper than that: our rivers are literally interwoven into the social and economic fabric of rural southern Oregon. Thanks to Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley for their leadership to steward and protect these renowned but threatened watersheds and for preserving outdoor experiences that are increasingly hard to find."