DeFazio bills look to expand wilderness areas

GRANTS PASS (AP) — Members of Oregon’s congressional delegation introduced legislation Wednesday to expand wilderness around Mount Hood, protect tributaries of the Rogue River, and enlarge the boundaries of the Oregon Caves National Monument.

Speaking from Washington, D.C., Democratic sponsors of the House bills said they would protect valuable parts of Oregon’s landscape for future generations to enjoy, as well as salmon habitat at a time when populations have been crashing, and raise the profile of the tiny Oregon Caves National Monument.

“These are places that merit special protection so that not only this generation of Oregonians can continue to enjoy them, but future generations of Oregonians for all time, and all Americans will have access to these wonderful places unchanged further by the hand of man,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.

Steve Pedery of Oregon Wild, a conservation group, said with Democrats controlling the House and Senate, President Bush interested in greening up his legacy, and sponsors taking great pains to enlist broad support, the bills should face easier passage than past efforts.

“There is not a lot of conflict out there over Mount Hood wilderness,” he said. “The primary economic value of the Mount Hood to Oregon is recreation. I think there is a growing recognition of that, even by the timber industry.”

Sen. Ron Wyden said he was confident that the Senate version of the Mount Hood wilderness bill would overcome procedural obstacles thrown up in the past by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., because it will be sent to the floor with other bills holding broad support.

The Rogue River bill would boost protections for salmon at a time when populations are collapsing up and down the West Coast by giving wild and scenic rivers protections to 40 tributaries running 143 miles. Some of the tributaries are threatened by U.S. Bureau of Land Management logging projects.

Another bill would add more than 4,000 acres to the 488 acres of the Oregon Caves National Monument outside Cave Junction to bar logging and cattle grazing in the upper watershed of Camp Creek, which runs through the caves.

The legislation includes wild and scenic river protection for the nation’s first underground stream, known as the River Styx, the portion of Camp Creek that runs through the caves, and provides for conservation groups to raise about $200,000 to pay the grazing permit holder to retire his grazing right. He has indicated he is willing to make a deal.

The National Park Service has wanted to expand the monument since 1999, said Sean Smith, of the National Parks Conservation Association in Seattle.

Andy Kerr, an adviser to Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, a local conservation group, said the park service has long felt that enlarging the monument would raise its profile and increase the number of visitors.

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