February 9, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Wilderness, Wild and Scenic designations are important

February 9, 2011
February 9, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Wilderness, Wild and Scenic designations are important

Wilderness, Wild and Scenic designations are important

By Brent Fenty and Scott Shlaes / Bulletin guest columnists
Published: February 09. 2011 4:00AM PST

The headline is as paradoxical as the line of argument. The Bulletin's Jan. 18 editorial, “A Wild and Scenic burden for state,” purports that protected rivers, pristine wilderness, and public lands safeguarded for “recreation” are bad for our region.

It's a surprising argument given how much Central Oregon relies on our surrounding natural beauty for everything from job creation in the outdoor recreation industry to the outstanding quality of life that attracts businesses and individuals to our region. A quick tour of Central Oregon gives us a good sense of why protected landscapes are far from burdensome.

This tour starts at an unlikely place — your kitchen sink. Much of Bend's drinking water benefits from natural forest filtration, starting in the Tumalo roadless area west of town in the Deschutes National Forest. Roadless areas are a special class of National Forest land, administratively protected from new road-building, commercial logging and other harmful development. These areas aren't congressionally designated Wilderness or Wild and Scenic Rivers, a fact that left them open to assault by the Bush administration.

Next door to Tumalo is the recreation paradise of the Three Sisters Wilderness. Congress protected the Three Sisters in 1964, and it's hard to imagine it as anything but a vast and beautiful wilderness oasis. Still, in 1974, the U.S. Pumice Co. pushed forward with an old mining claim just south of South Sister. The Forest Service was clear in its environmental assessment that digging for pumice and wilderness values didn't mix. Because of its wilderness status, President Ronald Reagan approved the funds to buy out the mining claim in the Three Sisters, preventing environmental degradation.

Forming high in the Cascades and eventually flowing through the lives of so many Oregonians is the Deschutes River. Once undermined by excessive water diversions and overgrazing, the Deschutes is now Oregon's premier fly-fishing destination. As adventurous rafters float by on the federally protected Wild and Scenic stretch of the lower Deschutes, grandparents teach their grandchildren how to cast a fly and pass down an Oregon birthright.

Let's finish our tour where the Bulletin started, at the Crooked River below Bowman Dam. This small section of the Crooked River designated as Wild and Scenic is visually stunning and provides an important sanctuary for redband trout, which anglers flock to the river to pursue.

It's hard to imagine Central Oregon without these special places. We owe thanks to the local residents and elected leaders who worked hard to protect these special places for future generations.

While it's not clear how Bowman Dam came to be included in the final boundary of the Wild and Scenic River designation on the Crooked River, what should be clear is the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act itself is not to blame, nor are the fish, wildlife, recreation and scenic values it protects.

Our state should be proud that we have safeguarded more rivers than any other in the nation. Conversely, we should be concerned with how little wilderness we have protected compared to our neighbors. Oregon has managed to safeguard only 4 percent of the state's territory as wilderness. Compare that to 15 percent in California, 11 percent in Washington and 8 percent in Idaho. Correcting this deficit provides outdoor recreation jobs and clean water, and enhances Central Oregon's quality of life.

Luckily, Oregonians are joining together to support new Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River proposals across the state. In Central and Eastern Oregon, two years of collaboration between conservationists, hunters and local landowners has led to groundbreaking agreements to protect Cathedral Rock and Horse Heaven — wilderness gems along the John Day River. Closer to Bend, neighbors of the proposed Whychus-Deschutes Wilderness have recently spoken out, urging additional protections for this stunningly scenic area.

Further south, anchored by Oregon's only National Park, is the Crater Lake Wilderness proposal. At over 500,000 acres, this proposed wilderness would act on a 30-year-old recommendation from the National Park Service to safeguard the vast backcountry of the park, the forested slopes of Mount Bailey and the headwaters of the Rogue River — areas recently put at risk by reckless logging proposals.

Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River designations are no burden for the Oregon public. Rather, these protective measures put the burden on those that would seek to despoil these areas and harm our natural heritage.

Most Oregonians who enjoy hunting, fishing, hiking, rafting or skiing in unspoiled areas are thankful for the work that has been done to safeguard our state's special places, and hopeful for more to come.

Brent Fenty is executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association. Scott Shlaes is executive director of Oregon Wild.

Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2010

Share this post