PORTLAND, Ore. — A hearing is scheduled in Congress today on a bill that would expand public-lands protections in Oregon. Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Jeff Merkley have introduced the Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act, which would extend safeguards for the Rogue River and create protections for parts of the Molalla River in Clackamas County and rivers in southwestern Oregon.
Pam Marsh, a state representative from Ashland, near the Rogue River, called the bill a generational investment that is especially important because of the greater demand to visit these places.
“You can be on the Rogue and you can really be out in the middle of nowhere on this tremendous river with these wonderful rapids and feel like you’re the only person on the planet,” Marsh said. “That’s a pretty extraordinary opportunity, and that’s why people go back and back and back to the Rogue.”
The measure would create a 30,000-acre recreation area near the Molalla River, establish the 98,000-acre Rogue Canyon Recreation Area and expand the existing Wild Rogue Wilderness Area by about 60,000 acres. It also would ban mining in 100,000 acres of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area.
Zach Collier owns Northwest Rafting Company and said the bill makes amends for unfinished business. Protections for these areas were left out of a larger public-lands package passed earlier this year, but Wyden and Merkley vowed to bring them back.
Collier noted these places are integral for local communities in Oregon that rely on recreation, and also the state’s bigger recreational picture.
“We have Keen, who’s selling shoes, and we have Columbia Sportswear, that’s selling jackets,” Collier said. “So the recreation goes beyond just the direct recreational impact. It goes to our larger recreation economy here in Oregon, which includes the equipment side.”
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation in Oregon generates more than $16 billion in consumer spending and more than 170,000 jobs.
Protections from mining in the Kalmiopsis are especially important to Collier. He said it’s a mecca for botanists and a landscape unlike anywhere else on the planet.
“I’m somebody who’s paddled all over the world. To me, these creeks are the most unique and rare things I’ve ever seen. They’re just really special,” he said. “So I’m really excited that they’re up to be protected. They’ve very deserving of protection.”
Today’s hearing will be before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining.
Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.