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At last, a wilderness bill.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Future generations of Oregonians won't remember the extraordinary effort it took to pass the public lands bill that provides more than 200,000 acres of new wilderness areas across the state - and more than 2 million acres nationwide.

But it would be fitting if a plaque, perhaps on a hiking trail somewhere on the flanks of Mount Hood, paid tribute to the mighty efforts of Sen. Ron Wyden, Rep. Peter DeFazio and other members of Oregon's congressional delegation.

Former Sen. Gordon Smith also deserves a bronzed mention for his work, along with Wyden, in crafting the portion of the bill that provides more than 125,000 acres of new wilderness around Mount Hood.

The House voted 285-140 Wednesday to pass the public lands bill, which had broad bipartisan support in Congress and the nation at large. Yet the bill failed in the same chamber by two votes earlier this month after a few House Democrats voted no because the National Rifle Association wanted to add an amendment that would allow loaded concealed weapons in national parks.

Some lawmakers also argued that portions the bill had not been properly vetted in committee, although most had been reviewed extensively as separate pieces of legislation and were the result of months - in the case of Mount Hood, years - of negotiations at the local and state levels.

The bill also was bottled up in the Senate for a year after Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., called it a waste of money - an objection that revealed more about Coburn's priorities than any flaws in the bill.

Besides the Mount Hood expansion, the bill adds two new wilderness areas in Eastern Oregon - the 30,000-acre Badlands Wilderness east of Bend and the 8,600-acre Spring Basin Wilderness in the John Day River drainage.

The bill also adds two other wildernesses: the 13,700-acre Copper Salmon Wilderness at the headwaters of the Elk River in Southwestern Oregon and the 23,000-acre Soda Mountain Wilderness, which lies within the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument east of Ashland.

Nationwide, the bill would establish three new national park units, a national monument, three national conservation areas, more than 1,000 miles of national wild and scenic rivers and four new national trails. It would expand the boundaries of a dozen national parks and establish 10 new national heritage areas.

For Oregon, it was the largest wilderness expansion in more than two decades, and it raises the percentage of the state protected under the federal Wilderness Act to 4 percent. By contrast, 15 percent of the land area in California, 8 percent in Idaho and 12 percent in Washington state have wilderness protection.

Conservation groups already are pushing for further additions, and Oregon's congressional delegation should begin laying the legislative groundwork.

The top priority for the next wilderness expansion should be proposals to add 60,000 acres to the existing Wild Rogue Wilderness and to extend wild and scenic protection to 143 miles of tributary streams that feed the iconic Rogue River.

Other promising wilderness candidates include the Devil's Staircase area in the central Coast Range; the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area, which includes Oregon's only redwood forests; and an expansion of the Oregon Caves National Monument.

But for now, with the public lands bill finally headed to President Obama for his signature, it's time to celebrate the newest additions to the nation's inventory of protected open space.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Legislation designates 200,000 acres in Oregon
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 26, 2009
Words:566
Previous Article:At least it's a plan.
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