In play right now in Congress are two bills that would elevate the conservation status of 442,620 acres of public land in Oregon. The Oregon Wildlands Act and an act to designate a wild steelhead protection area in the North Umpqua Canyon. The net acreage protected if both bills are passed is actually somewhat less than this figure, as some of the acres overlap in what would become wild and scenic river, wilderness, and/or recreation areas. However, each designation provides additional, not duplicative, protection to the given acreage.
Both acts are part of an omnibus public lands package that is likely to pass the Senate soon. However, the Oregon Wildlands Act has been watered down in that package. When the bill is sent over to the House, Representative Kurt Schrader (D-5th-OR) can stand up for getting an additional national recreation area complementary to the Molalla Wild and Scenic River into the House bill. Representative Peter DeFazio (D-4th-OR) will have a chance to champion the Wild Rogue Wilderness additions, which he has long supported.
Specifics of the Proposed Oregon Wildlands Act
Senator Ron Wyden’s proposed Oregon Wildlands Act was introduced in the Senate on July 13, 2017 (S.1548, 115th Congress). Senator Jeff Merkley was an original cosponsor. The bill as Wyden introduced it (Map 1) would
• designate two national recreation areas (~128,034 acres),
• establish one wilderness area and expand another (~90,133 acres),
• establish nine new and expand two wild and scenic rivers (~255.4 miles), and
• ban mining and damming of some tributaries to the Rogue River (~27.6 miles).
Specifically, the bill would
• establish the Rogue Canyon National Recreation Area (~98,150 acres);
• establish the Molalla National Recreation Area (~29,884 acres);
• establish the Devils Staircase Wilderness (~30,621 acres);
• expand the Wild Rogue Wilderness (59,512 acres);
• establish the Molalla Wild and Scenic River (21.3 miles);
• establish the Nestucca Wild and Scenic River (~15.5 miles);
• establish the Walker Creek Wild and Scenic River (~2.9 miles);
• establish the North Fork Silver Creek Wild and Scenic River (~6.0 miles);
• establish the Jenny Creek Wild and Scenic River (~17.6 miles);
• establish the Spring Creek Wild and Scenic River (~1.1 miles);
• establish the Lobster Creek Wild and Scenic River (~5.0 miles);
• establish the Elk Creek Wild and Scenic River (7.3 miles);
• establish the Franklin Creek Wild and Scenic River (4.5 miles);
• establish the Wasson Creek Wild and Scenic River (10.1 miles);
• expand the Rogue Wild and Scenic River (~117.6 miles) by including thirty-four tributary streams: Kelsey, East Fork Kelsey, Whisky, East Fork Whisky, West Fork Whisky, Big Windy, East Fork Big Windy, Little Windy, Howard (including Anna), Mule, Missouri, Jenny, Rum, East Fork Rum, Wildcat, Montgomery, Hewitt, Bunker, Dulog, Quail, Meadow, Russian, Alder, Booze, Bronco, Copsey, Corral, Cowley, Ditch, Francis, Bailey, Shady, and Slide Creeks, plus Long Gulch;
• expand the Elk Wild and Scenic River (46.5 miles) by including sixteen tributary streams: Rock, Bald Mountain, South Fork Bald Mountain, Platinum, Panther, East Fork Panther, West Fork Panther, Lost, Milbury, Blackberry, East Fork Blackberry, McCurdy, Bear, Butler, East Fork Butler, and Purple Mountain Creeks;
• prevent the mining or damming of 27.6 miles of Rogue River tributaries (portions of Kelsey, Grave, Quail, Ditch, Galice, Quartz, and North Fork Galice Creeks, plus Centennial Gulch);
• prevent mining in the Chetco Wild and Scenic River and elevate the protective classification of certain segments; and
• rename Squaw Creek Wild and Scenic River as Whychus Creek Wild and Scenic River.
Wyden’s bill was marked up (amended and sent to the floor) in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee on October 2, 2018, and formally reported to the Senate on December 6, 2018. The only significant change made by the Republican-run committee was to downgrade the names of the proposed Molalla and Rogue Canyon national recreation areas to mere recreation areas.
In the lame-duck session after the November election, during negotiations between House and Senate leaders to produce a public lands package of legislation, Representative Greg Walden (R-2nd-OR) convinced ENR Committee chair Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to pull the two recreation areas and the Wild Rogue Wilderness additions from the version of the Oregon Wildlands Act included in the Senate bill. The pubic lands package was expected to pass and move on to the House, where it was expected to pass. Neither happened. (This debacle was fully detailed in my last Public Lands Blog post, “Wither the Wild Rogue?”)
In the new 2019–2020 Congress, the package agreed to late in the last Congress, now called the Natural Resources Management Act (S.47, 116th Congress), was introduced by Senator Murkowski on January 8, 2019. The public lands package was placed on the Senate calendar (ready for a vote) on the following day. The two nationalrecreation areas and the Wild Rogue Wilderness additions are still absent. Wyden has reintroduced his Oregon Wildlands Act (S.86, 116th Congress), which is identical to the bill the ENR Committee reported out in 2018 (with the proposed Molalla and Rogue Canyon national recreation areas downgraded to mere recreation areas). If the Wild Rogue doesn’t get put back in the House, we trust Wyden will fight on to save the Rogue (and Molalla).
The Proposed Molalla Wild and Scenic River and National Recreation Area
In 2009, Representative Kurt Schrader (D-5th-OR) got his Molalla Wild and Scenic River bill (H.R.2781, 111th Congress) passed in the House in the first year of his first term. Quite a feat! Democrats were in the majority in the House. Though introduced in the Senate by Wyden and Merkley, the companion legislation (S.1369, 111th Congress) received no action.
Schrader subsequently introduced freestanding Molalla WSR bills in the 112th, 113th, 114th, and 115th Congress, but they received no action as the Republican majority bottled up the bills in committee. All other Oregon Democrats in the House—Suzanne Bonamici (or her predecessor, David Wu), Earl Blumenauer, and Peter DeFazio—were always cosponsors.
The Molalla Wild and Scenic River seems greased at this point, but the Molalla NationalRecreation Area is in trouble. Walden knocked it and the proposed Rogue Canyon NationalRecreation Area out of consideration because they would score as an additional cost to the government under the House budgeting rules.
If you are a constituent and have not yet contacted Representative Schrader and thanked him for his leadership on the Molalla Wild and Scenic River, please do it now. Urge him to get the proposed Molalla NationalRecreation Area, which would be complementary to and additionally protective of the Molalla Wild and Scenic River, into the House bill.
Protecting the Steamboat Creek Watershed in the North Umpqua Canyon
Fortunately, included in the Natural Resources Management Act (S.47) is the proposed Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Special Management Area Designation Act (introduced by Wyden as S.513 in the 115th Congress). Wyden’s (Merkley-cosponsored) bill was also watered down in the Senate ENR Committee markup. It it is still a good bill, but it a very good bill. It never was a great bill because Wyden’s original bill only included that portion of the Steamboat Creek watershed on the Umpqua National Forest (99,653 acres) and not the portion that includes a checkerboard of Bureau of Land Management and private industrial land (~30,000 acres, mostly BLM). Steamboat Creek is a vital spawning tributary to the North Umpqua Wild and Scenic River. The fish don’t care a wit about who owns the land but do care whether the management of the land will kill them. Wyden has also introduced another freestanding bill to protect the area (S.82, 116th Congress),
(Frank and Jeanne Moore are heroes of mine. I first met them in the 1970s. They once owned the legendary Steamboat Inn on the North Umpqua. Both were tireless advocates for nature: Frank for fish and Jeanne for endemic rare plants. Frank got more notice for his fish conservation work than Jeanne for her plant conservation work. Jeanne was one of four women that we affectionately called the Limpy Ladies after the Limpy Rock roadless area on the north side of the North Umpqua Canyon. Limpy Rock is a botanical wonderland, disjunct from the better-known Kalmiopsis country but with many overlapping species. These four late-middle-aged women kicked Forest Service butt whenever the agency even thought of roading and logging the area.)
After the Senate, on to the House: Last Chance for the Wild Rogue
It appears that the Natural Resources Management Act, with both the watered-down version of the Oregon Wildlands Act and the Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Management Area Designation Act embedded, will very likely soon pass the Senate. When it does, the bill will be sent over to the House of Representatives, where Representative DeFazio has the opportunity to save the Rogue by insisting that the Wild Rogue Wilderness additions that he has long championed (Figure 1) are in the final legislation sent to the president for his signature.
If you are a constituent and have not yet contacted Representative DeFazio and urged him to fulfill his promise to save the Rogue, please do it now.