December 06, 2006

Wyden, Smith Introduce Mount Hood and Columbia River Gorge Wilderness Bill

Senators' legislation protects more than 128,000additional acres, adds National Recreation Areas andmore than 80 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith today will introduce legislation to permanently protect more than 128,000 acres of wilderness on Mount Hood and in the Columbia River Gorge — 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.

"We are keeping our promise to Oregonians and answering their calls for more protection for Mount Hood and the Gorge," Wyden said. "Senator Smith and I will be working together with our House colleagues, in a bipartisan manner, to attempt to move a Mount Hood wilderness bill to the President's desk this year."

"We have a chance to preserve a marvel of Oregon's landscape," Smith said. "We are going to push hard for the Senate to protect Mount Hood and the Gorge. Our aim is to safeguard access and the ability to enjoy wilderness. This effort has broad support and I'm hopeful that it will soon become law."

It has been more than two decades since the last wilderness areas were added to protect Mount Hood. 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.

Senators Smith and Wyden also introduced today a compromise agreement to remove cattle from the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. The legislation authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to permanently retire relinquished grazing allotments, arranges for the compensation for grazing permit holders and designates approximately 23,000 acres of new wilderness known as the Soda Mountain Wilderness. The legislation is the result of lengthy discussions between the senators, cattle ranchers and environmentalists.

"We have consensus from both sides, which is key to gaining approval," Smith said. "The circumstances are unique. This legislation is needed to keep ranchers in the saddle and out of the court room. The two interested parties found common ground to solve this problem. That's the Oregon way and a great basis for legislation."

"This Siskiyou wilderness area will protect a truly unique ecosystem and key wildlife corridor, while ensuring a square deal for area ranchers." Wyden said. "I particularly want to commend my colleague, Senator Smith, for his leadership in helping to move this proposal forward into legislation."

Click here for a overview map of the Lewis and Clark Mount Hood Wilderness Proposal

Click here for detailed maps of the Lewis and Clark Mount Hood Wilderness Proposal