September 27, 2006

Wyden, Smith: Clock is Ticking on Mount Hood Wilderness Bill

Senators Say Congress Should Pass Legislation this Year

Washington, D.C. Speaking today before a congressional panel holding a hearing on their legislation to permanently protect more than 128,000 acres of wilderness on Mount Hood and in the Columbia River Gorge, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith said Congress should capitalize on the momentum behind the bill and pass the proposal before the end of the year.The Wyden-Smith legislation represents an increase of almost 70 percent over existing wilderness protections. The Senators bill also would grant Wild and Scenic River protections to more than 80 additional miles of rivers in Oregon. It would create more than 18,000 acres of Mount Hood National Recreation Areas, improving access for mountain biking and other recreational opportunities while allowing forest health projects to be completed where necessary.Mount Hood is a place of spectacular beauty to Oregonians and protecting the air, land and water around it is in our chromosomes, Wyden said. Our bill to designate more wilderness on Mount Hood has been a citizen-driven process. Weve heard loud and clear that the people of Oregon want more protections for Mount Hood.This bill has such widespread support because its crafted with the interests of all users in mind, Smith said. Its seldom seen in Congress that an entire state delegation agrees on such an important concept, but were almost there. I hope that we will be able to make the final adjustments and get it passed before the end of the year.In July, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill (H.R. 5025) that would designate approximately 77,000 acres as wilderness and approximately 25 miles of Wild and Scenic River protections in the Mount Hood National Forest. While keeping the designations included in H.R. 5025 intact, Wyden and Smith added significant protections for both the environment and for recreation. These additions would not impact mountain bike or snowmobile trails, nor would they affect areas allocated for timber harvest under the Northwest Forest Plan. In an effort to more easily reach agreement with the House-passed bill, the Senate legislation adopts the House bill language dealing with transportation, recreation, forest health, watershed protection and tribal provisions. Additionally, the Senate bill includes more legislative safeguards for the public on land exchanges.