A picture of Senator Ron Wyden
Ron W.
Democrat OR

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  • Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

    by Senator Ron Wyden

    Posted on 2013-02-14

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    WYDEN (for himself and Mr. Merkley): S. 352. A bill to provide for the designation of the Devil's Staircase Wilderness Area in the State of Oregon, to designate segments of Wasson and Franklin Creeks in the State of Oregon as wild rivers, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.



    Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, today I rise to re-introduce three bills that will better protect unique and important areas in the beautiful state of Oregon. Two of these passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee the last two Congresses. I am pleased to again be joined on these bills with my colleague from Oregon, Senator MerklEy. I look forward to working with Senator Merkley, other colleagues and other supporters of the bills to keep up the fight for these special places in Oregon.

    The first bill I am introducing--the Oregon Caves Revitalization Act of 2013--will enhance the existing Oregon Caves National Monument to protect this majestic site for future generations. The bill expands the boundary of the National Park Service land to create the Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve.

    A Presidential Proclamation in 1909 established 480 acres of natural wonder as the Oregon Caves National Monument in the botanically-rich Siskiyou Mountains. At the time, the focus was on the unique subsurface resources, and the small, rectangular boundary was thought to be adequate to protect the cave. However, scientific research has since provided much greater insight into the cave's ecology and its hydrological processes, for which 480 acres is inadequate. The National Park Service formally proposed boundary modification numerous times--in 1939, 1949, and 2000.

    My bill expands protections in and around the Oregon Caves National Monument. The entirety of the Cave Creek Watershed would be included in the park site, transferring management of 4,070 acres of United States Forest Service land to the National Park Service. Hunters will still have recreational access to this land since it will be designated a Preserve.

    And the expansion of the Monument's boundary would be incomplete [[Page S781]] without protecting the water that enters the cave so as to preserve the cave's resources. My legislation would designate at least 9.6 miles of rivers and tributaries as Wild, Scenic, or Recreational, under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act--including the first Wild and Scenic subterranean river, the ``River Styx.'' A perennial stream, the River Styx--an underground portion of Cave Creek--flows through part of the cave and is one of the dynamic natural forces at work in the National Monument. In addition, this bill would authorize the retirement of existing grazing allotments. The current grazing permitee, Phil Krouse's family, has had the Big Grayback Grazing Allotment, 19,703 acres, since 1937. Mr. Krouse has publicly stated that he would look favorably upon retirement with private compensation for his allotment, which my legislation will allow to proceed.

    The Oregon Caves National Monument offers important contributions to Southern Oregon and the nation. The cave ecosystem provides habitat for one of the highest concentrations of biological diversity anywhere. And as the longest marble cave open to the public west of the Continental Divide, the Monument receives over 80,000 visitors annually. A larger Monument boundary will help showcase more fully the recreational opportunities on the above-ground lands within the proposed Monument boundary.

    I want to express my thanks to the conservation and business communities of southern Oregon, who have worked diligently to protect these lands and waters.

    My second bill is the Devil's Staircase Wilderness Act of 2013. Under this bill, approximately 30,500 acres of rugged, wild, pristine, and remote land surrounding the Wasson Creek area will be designated wilderness. In fact the area is so rugged that federal land managers have withdrawn this landslide-prone forest from all timber activity numerous times. At the heart of this coastal rainforest lies Devil's Staircase, a crystal clear waterfall that cascades over slab after slab of sandstone. The Devil's Staircase proposal typifies what Wilderness in Oregon is all about.

    The proposed Devil's Staircase Wilderness is the finest old-growth forest remaining in Oregon's Coast Range, boasting huge Douglas-fir, cedar and hemlock. The ecological significance of this treasure is as clear as the water running through Devil's Staircase. The land is protected as a Late-Successional Reserve by the Northwest Forest Plan, as critical habitat for the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet, and as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern by the Bureau of Land Management. Preserving these majestic forests as Wilderness for their wildlife and spectacular scenery not only matches the goals of the existing land management plans but also permanently protects this natural gem for future generations. The wilderness designation is needed to protect these areas permanently.

    My bill would not only protect the forests surrounding Wasson Creek but would also designate approximately 4.5 miles of Franklin Creek and approximately 10.1 miles of Wasson Creek as Wild and Scenic Rivers. Franklin Creek, a critically important tributary to the Umpqua River, is one of the best examples of pristine salmon habitat left in Oregon. Together with Wasson Creek, these two streams in the Devil's Staircase area deserve Wild and Scenic River designation by Congress.

    The third bill I am introducing is the Oregon Treasures Act of 2013. This bill seeks to provide protections for five significant areas in Oregon. They are the Chetco River, the Molalla River, the Rogue River, and Horse Heaven and Cathedral Rock. Each of these parts of the bill aim to protect natural treasures in Oregon, preserve them for use and enjoyment for generations to come, and build upon the economic opportunities they provide for their local communities.

    The Oregon Treasures Act of 2013 includes a provision to protect two of Oregon's natural treasures, Cathedral Rock and Horse Heaven. This wilderness designation has been introduced in the two most recent Congresses. The Cathedral Rock and Horse Heaven wilderness proposal will do more than simply protect these areas. It will also help Oregon's economy, because visitors from all over the world come to my state to experience firsthand the unique scenic beauty of place like the lands preserved by this bill.

    This legislation will consolidate what is currently a splintered ownership of land in this area and protect 17,340 acres of new Wilderness along the Lower John Day River. The fractured land ownership in this area makes it difficult for visitors to fully appreciate these areas when they hike, fish or hunt there because of the scattered and misunderstood lines of private and public ownership. This bill will solve that problem and make these lands more inviting to visitors while giving the landowners more contiguous property to call home.

    The area in question is stunning. The Cathedral Rock and Horse Heaven Wilderness proposals encompass dramatic basalt cliffs and rolling hills of juniper, sagebrush and native grasses. These new areas build on the desert Spring Basin Wilderness that was established in 2009 as a result of legislation I introduced, and are located directly across the John Day River from Spring Basin.

    With 500 miles of undammed waters, the John Day River is the second- longest free-flowing river in the continental United States and is a place that is cherished by Oregonians. The Lower John Day Wild and Scenic River offers world-class opportunities for outdoor recreation as well as crucial wildlife habitat for elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep and native fish such as salmon and steelhead trout. Through land consolidation between public and private landowners, this legislation will allow for better management and easier public access for this important natural treasure. With the current fragmentation of public and private land ownership in the area, river campsites are limited. Many federal lands among them can't be reached by the hikers, campers and other outdoors recreationists who could most appreciate them. With the equal-value land exchanges included in this bill, public lands would be consolidated into two new Wilderness areas. This would enhance public safety, improve land management, and increase public access and recreational opportunities. I want to recognize that some have raised concerns about the lack of roaded access to Cathedral Rock. I have engaged the private landowners on this issue to seek a solution. Whatever the outcome, I do know that the Cathedral Rock and Horse Heaven proposal will create an incredible, new heritage for public lands recreationists who are an important factor in keeping Oregon's economy healthy and thriving.

    Rafters of the John Day River can attest to the need for more campsites and public access to the Cathedral Rock area. Backcountry hunters will be able to scan the hillsides for elk, deer and game-birds without having to worry about accidentally trespassing on someone's private land. Anglers will be able to access nearly 5 miles of the John Day River that today are only reachable from privately owned lands. Likewise, such a solution ensures that local landowners can manage their lands effectively without running across unwitting trespassers.

    One good example of the value of these land swaps is Young Life's Washington Family Ranch. This Ranch is home to a Christian youth camp that welcomes over 20,000 kids to the lower John Day area each year. This bill sets out private and public land boundaries that can be clearly seen on the ground and these boundaries create a safer area for campers on the Ranch; this serves the children who visit the area well and ensures the continued viability of the Ranch, which, in turn, provides big economic dividends to the local community.

    The Cathedral Rock and Horse Heaven Wilderness proposal is described as ``win-win-win'' by many stakeholders--nearly five miles of new river access for the public and protected land for outdoor enthusiasts; better management for private landowners and public agencies; and important habitat protections for sensitive and endangered species. This proposal is an example of the positive solutions that can result when varied, bipartisan interests in a community come together to craft solutions that will work for everyone. I especially want to thank the Oregon Natural Desert Association, Young Life, and Matt Smith for their role in developing this collaborative solution [[Page S782]] that will benefit all Oregonians. The Cathedral Rock and Horse Heaven Wilderness areas will help make sure that this rural area will enjoy the benefits that permanently connecting these disparate pieces of natural landscape will bring for generations to come.

    Additionally the Oregon Treasures Act protects the Chetco River. For over a decade, I've advocated for protections for the Chetco and other threatened waterways in Southwest Oregon. Part of the Oregon Treasures Act of 2013 would withdraw about three miles of the Chetco River from mineral entry, while upgrading the designations for some portions.

    This river is under persistent threat from out-of-state suction dredge miners. In 2010, the group American Rivers listed the Chetco as the seventh most endangered river in the country because of those threats. Withdrawing these portions of the river from future mineral entry will prevent future harmful mining claims and make sure that those claims that already exist are valid.

    The Chetco is also hugely important for salmon habitat and local sport fishing. The passage of this legislation would mean protecting that habitat, and promoting the continued success of the fishing industry throughout the West Coast. I am pleased the Obama administration has taken some steps to protect this area, but the passage of this legislation is needed to ensure long-term protection for this important river.

    Next, the Oregon Treasures Act of 2013 would add 60,000 acres of new wilderness to the existing Wild Rogue Wilderness. The Wild Rogue Wilderness expansion would protect habitat for bald eagles, osprey, spotted owls, bear, elk, cougar, wild coho, wild Chinook, wild steelhead, green sturgeon, and many others. The Wild Rogue Wilderness and the Rogue River that runs through it embody one of the nation's premier recreation destinations, famous for the free flowing waters which provide numerous rafting and fishing opportunities.

    The headwaters of the Rogue River start in one of Oregon's other great gems--Crater Lake National Park--and the river ultimately empties into the Pacific Ocean, near Gold Beach on Oregon's southwest coast. Along that stretch, the Rogue River flows through one of the most spectacular canyons and diverse natural areas in the United States. The Rogue River is a world class rafting river, offering everything from one day trips to week long trips through deep forested canyons. On the land, the Rogue River trail is also one of Oregon's most renowned backpacking routes.

    The legislation would also protect an additional 143 miles of tributaries that feed the Rogue River with cold clean water. Of that number, 93 miles would be designated Wild and Scenic Rivers and an additional 50 miles would be protected from mining. The areas receiving protection include Galice Creek, Little Windy Creek, Jenny Creek, Long Gulch and 36 other tributaries of the Rogue. The Rogue River is one of Oregon's most iconic and beloved rivers. It is a river that teems with salmon leaping up rapids to spawn, and finds rafters down those very same rapids at other times of the year.

    I previously introduced legislation to protect the Rogue River tributaries in the last three Congresses. Since it was first introduced, I have worked with the timber industry and conservationists to find a compromise that protects one of America's treasures with additional wilderness designations and more targeted protections for the Rogue's tributaries. I am pleased that 95 local businesses--and over 120 organizations and business in total--support protecting the Wild Rogue, and that support grows every day. Many of those businesses directly benefit from the Wild Rogue and the Rogue River. As I often say, protecting these gems is not just good for the environment, but also good for the economy. These protected landscapes are powerhouses of the recreation economy that draws visitors from around the world to this region and the Rogue River is one of Oregon's most important sport and commercial fisheries. The Wild Rogue is the second largest salmon fishery in Oregon behind the Columbia. The Wild Rogue provides the quality of life and recreational opportunities that create an economic engine that attracts businesses and brings in tourists from around the world. The Rogue River supports more than 400 local jobs in nearby communities like Grants Pass.

    By protecting the Wild Rogue landscape and the tributaries that feed the mighty Rogue River, Congress will ensure that future generations can raft, fish, hike and enjoy the Wild Rogue as it is enjoyed today and that the recreational economy of this region remains strong.

    Lastly, there is another provision in the bill to designate segments of Oregon's Molalla River as Wild and Scenic. An approximately 15.1- mile segment of the Molalla River and an approximately 6.2-mile segment of Table Rock Fork Molalla River would be designated as a recreational river under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

    Including these river segments would protect a popular Oregon destination that provides abundant recreational activities that help fuel the recreation economy that is so important to the communities along the river. The scenic beauty of the Molalla River provides a backdrop for hiking, mountain biking, camping, and horseback riding, while the waters of the river are a popular destination for fishing, kayaking, and whitewater rafting enthusiasts. This legislation would not only preserve this area as a recreation destination, but would also protect the river habitat of the Chinook salmon and Steelhead trout, along with the wildlife habitat surrounding the river, home to the northern spotted owl, the pileated woodpecker, golden and bald eagles, deer, elk, the pacific giant salamander, and many others. The Molalla River is also the source of clean drinking water for the towns of Molalla and Canby, Oregon. Protecting the approximately 21.3 miles of the Molalla River will provide the residents of these Oregon towns with the assurance that they will continue to receive clean drinking water.

    I would like to reiterate my continued appreciation for the Molalla River Alliance--a coalition of more than 48 member-organizations that recognize that this river is a jewel and have set out to protect it. This Alliance made sure that irrigators, city councilors, the mayor, businesses and environmentalists all came together on this.

    Oregon's wildlands play an increasingly important role in the economic development of our state, especially in traditionally rural areas east of the Cascades. Visitors come from thousands of miles away to hike, fish, raft and hunt in Oregon's desert Wilderness. Beyond tourism, the rich quality of life and the diverse natural amenities that we enjoy as Oregonians are key to attracting new businesses to Oregon. And with all these bills, I express my gratitude for the many groups and individuals who have worked diligently to protect these special places. I look forward to working with Senator Merkley, Representative DeFazio, Representative Schrader and other colleagues and the bill's other supporters to keep up the fight for these unique places in Oregon and get these pieces of legislation to the President's desk for his signature.

    ______ By Mr. CARDIN (for himself, Mr. Graham, Mr. Leahy, Ms. Klobuchar, Mrs. Boxer, Mr. Blumenthal, Mr. Whitehouse, Ms. Heitkamp, and Mr. Durbin): S. 357. A bill to encourage, enhance, and integrate Blue Alert plans throughout the United States in order to disseminate information when a law enforcement officer is seriously injured or killed in the line of duty; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

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