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With support, Hood Legacy Act starts D.C. climb

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

April 15, 2006

The Mt. Hood Stewardship Legacy Act has begun its journey through the legislative process — with plenty of cheerleading from local and state government leaders.

More cautious support has been given by conservation groups and a major private landowner.

House Resolution 5025 made its public debut before the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health April 5. The bill may be considered by the full Resources Committee within the next few weeks.

The subcommittee was chaired by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., one of the bill’s authors. Testifying in favor of the legislation were: Hood River County Commissioner Carol York, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Chairman Ron Suppah, Chris Winter, attorney for the Hood River Valley Residents Committee, and Ken Rait of the Campaign for America’s Wilderness.

The transportation element of the legislation was fully endorsed by Matthew Garrett, director of the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Mixed comments that leaned more toward the positive than the negative were presented by Frank Backus, chief forester for SDS Lumber Company.

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Walden collaborated on the legislation after spending hundreds of hours gathering input from the public, recreational groups, the environmental community, tribal leaders and agency heads. HR5025, which was introduced on March 28, has been co-sponsored by U.S. Reps Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Darlene Hooley, D-Ore.

“This bill charts a comprehensive course for the mountain’s future: How we preserve wild places, manage for future recreation and transportation uses, uphold Native American rights, and ensure our forests and watershed are healthy,” said Blumenauer. “I don’t think anything has given me more personal satisfaction in the past three years than our work to make this proposal into reality.”

He and Walden believe that HR5025 is a multi-faceted approach to address the many diverse interests on the mountain. The legislation proposes adding 77,500-acres of designated Wilderness to the national forest, a 41 percent increase. And 23 more miles to three Wild and Scenic rivers, a 19 percent addition.

Although HRVRC and most other conservation groups want significantly more Wilderness protection, their members seem to be in agreement that Walden and Blumenauer’s plan is “an important step in the right direction.”

“Chairman Walden and Rep. Blumenauer have, in this legislation, shown remarkable leadership and commitment to the Mount Hood Wilderness in the finest tradition of Oregon bipartisanship, and are exercising the responsibility that we have to pass along wild places to our children and all future generations,” said Rait.

Both York and Winter advocated for federal approval of a land exchange that would protect the Crystal Springs Watershed in the southern sector of the county. Walden and Blumenauer are fully supporting the terms of the settlement agreement between HRVRC and Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort.

Under that plan, Meadows will trade about 700 acres of its privately owned Cooper Spur holdings for 120 acres of national forest property near Government Camp. HRVRC has agreed not to oppose the company’s plans to build 480 housing units on land that Clackamas County has already zoned for that purpose.

“We have taken that solution out to the community and received almost unanimous positive feedback from the people of Hood River County for this solution that provides certainty and permanent protection for these special places. Oregonians want the north side to stay wild and free,” said Winter.

York also applauded a land exchange in Cascade Locks that would add 17 acres to the Pacific Crest Trail. She said Port of Cascade Lock’s property that was zoned for residential use near the trail should be traded for 10 acres of national forest in a nearby location. York said that deal would preserve the viewscape along the trail while accommodating the city’s need for senior and affordable housing.

“The Hood River County Commission is particularly pleased to see this proposed land exchange in the legislation since it, too, represents an opportunity to move forward with a vision that protects a valuable natural resource while providing economic development opportunities in the affected community,” said York.

Suppah said HR5025 factored in tribal treaty rights by setting aside, “priority areas” for the gathering of huckleberries and other “first foods.” The bill also allows temporary closure of new Wilderness areas to accommodate tribal cultural and religious activities.

“We believe this legislation will provide added protection for our 1855 Treaty food gathering rights and help guarantee the continuing vitality of our traditional Indian way of life,” said Suppah.

Backus was not only representing one of the largest employers in the area — with 316 workers at the Bingen plant — but the American Forest Resource Council, which he chairs. He said SDS, which owns 17,000 acres in Hood River and Wasco counties, once gained 75 percent of the wood fiber it needed for manufacturing from the Gifford Pinchot and Mount Hood national forests. Today, he said less than 1 percent of that product was available from federal lands.

Therefore, Backus urged the subcommittee to modify HR5025 so that it did not further reduce commercial timber harvest. He said logging on Mount Hood was already limited to about 183,000 acres, or 16 percent of the total land base. So, if the Cooper Spur property were turned into Wilderness, Backus said other forest land needed to be opened up for sustainable logging practices. He was in full agreement with the bill’s plan to restore forest health by removing diseased and bug-infested trees from overstocked stands of timber on the east side of the mountain. He said without some type of action, federal lands were in danger of having a catastrophic wildfire that destroyed natural resources.

“There are many amenities and uses found on the Mount Hood National Forest that drive all of us to help chart the future. I believe the first priority is to ensure that future includes a green forest, and not one devastated by wildfire,” said Backus. “I would like to commend the chairman and Congressman Blumenauer for their efforts to craft a solid proposal with this important reality in mind.”

Garrett said ODOT was in agreement with the requirement in the bill that a multi-modal transportation plan be developed for Highways 26 and 35 to ensure motorist safety. He said having viable roadways was vital to the mountain communities that rely so heavily on visitors for their economic well-being.

“Despite the challenges, you have managed to strike a balance between competing interests that will preserve the mountain for future generations. Oregon’s Governor, Ted Kulongoski, asked me to pass along his gratitude for your hard work, and he is very hopeful that you will achieve success with this proposal,” said Garrett.

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