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Walden “Local Hero” for OR Wilderness Bill

April 16, 2009

Hood River, OR – Oregon Rep. Greg Walden must be feeling like a superstar in his hometown of Hood River as he reads signs in the windows of many local businesses saying "Thank You, Congressman Walden." The merchants are happy that Walden voted for the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, the bill that designates more than 200,000 new acres of federally protected wilderness in Oregon.

The Oregon delegation unanimously voted for the Act, but Walden's Republican peers did not: Only 38 of the 287 "yes" votes in the House were cast by GOP members. That's why Nic Callero with the National Wildlife Federation says Walden's vote stands out.

"He represents the largest district in Oregon, where a lot of these wilderness protection areas lie. It took a lot of courage for him to break party ranks – but at the same time, it was easier for him because of the district that he represents."

"Thank you" signs are up in Bend and other Second Congressional District towns, as well. Retailers there expect a boost in tourism business from the six new wilderness areas the bill designates, Callero explains, not just from people outside the state, but from Oregonians who won't have to travel far this summer to check out their newest outdoor playgrounds.

Three years ago, Walden's fellow Congressman Earl Blumenauer invited him on a backpacking trip that, Callero says, apparently made an impression.

"He hiked 40 miles around the proposed Mt. Hood Wilderness Area. Many of those acres are now protected by this legislation. I think that trip really created an impact on him, about how important this wilderness area is to those local communities."

The Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 passed the House on March 25; President Obama signed it into law on March 30.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR