Guest column: A forever stamp, maybe not a forever river

Dec 18, 2018

Bend Bulletin

Guest column: A forever stamp, maybe not a forever river

BY TIM PHILLIPS

As this paper pointed out in a recent article, our iconic Deschutes River will be recognized on a U.S. Postal Stamp in 2019. This recognition honors the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act passed 50 years ago by Congress. The federal act provides protections for a river’s “Outstanding Remarkable Values,” of which the Deschutes River has many. From unique species of flora and fauna to endangered wildlife, it provides unique access to solitude for those that recreate along its banks.

Oregonians took up the mantle of environmental protection with the passage of our own state-based act, The Oregon State Scenic Waterways Act, which was passed by statewide ballot Measure 9 in 1970, with 65 percent approval, a landslide victory for river protection.

Even more compelling is the entire state reaffirmed its protection for wildlife and the environment again with the passage of The Upper Deschutes Scenic Waterways Act by statewide ballot Measure 7 in 1988. The entire state recognized the Upper Deschutes as a special place than needed protecting.

It’s almost hard to believe an environmental friendly town like Bend has a park district willing to damage and undo these long-standing river protections.

The proposed footbridge south of town has been a hot button issue for several years in Bend after a group of landowners (of which I am one), environmentalists and state agencies resisted and rejected Bend parks desire to weaken these long-standing and voter approved environmental protections. Not without controversy and name calling by this paper and Don Horton, the executive director for Bend parks, the coalition is stronger than ever and more determined to protect the river.

Bend parks has not relented in its efforts to build a bridge that violates several river protections. It has invented process after process, in hopes of getting someone to say, “Yes let’s destroy long-standing public lands and river protections, and harm wildlife.” All the while flushing a lot of taxpayer money down the river.

The Deschutes Scenic Waterway Act gave birth to the Upper Deschutes Comprehensive Management Plan, which developed and informed the current usage laws. This plan was written by 18 agencies including the Bend Park & Recreation District, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and signed by the governor. It’s no small matter for one local parks district to attempt to circumvent the entire state’s thoughtful process and voter intent.

The no-bridge provision was placed into the plan as a way to support a certain type of recreation, not restrict it. The Upper Deschutes was designated in the management plan to provide some “solitude, naturalness and independence from developed structures.” It provides water for everything from rafting to fishing to floating. It’s home to wildlife, such as bald and golden eagles, elk and deer.

The no-bridge provision is consistent with that intent.

In rejecting Bend parks desire to weaken this nationally recognized waterway, Oregon Parks and Recreation, the prevailing authority on State Scenic Waterways, Director Lisa Sumption said, “I would reconsider amending rules in the future if that would clearly strengthen protection of the waterway. As important as recreation is to our mission, it has to be balanced with our need to protect resources that make recreation possible.”

Don’t we all need a place to go without man-made structures and some solitude?

A little effort to access the river and forest might just help manage the crowds that swarm to Bend in the summer and continue to provide us with a sense of “naturalness” and “independence.” Undoing river and public land protections would erode those opportunities and the intent of the management plan.

On this 35th year of the Oregon Scenic Waterways Act, and the 50th Anniversary of the Federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act the Deschutes is appropriately recognized with the honor of a U.S. Postage Stamp. Let’s all work to protect her living legacy and not just with a stamp.

— Tim Phillips lives in Bend.

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