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Little-Known Fund Protects Iconic Ore. Landscapes, Boosts Outdoor Rec

The Rogue River has received more than $13 million in investments from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. (Eric Tegethoff)
The Rogue River has received more than $13 million in investments from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. (Eric Tegethoff)
July 12, 2018

GALICE, Ore. — Conservation groups say a little-known federal program provides access to some of Oregon's most iconic natural landscapes.

Since its inception more than 50 years ago, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has provided Oregon with more than $310 million to help keep places such as the John Day Fossil Beds, Oregon Dunes and Pacific Crest Trail open and available to the public. The fund will lapse if Congress doesn't act by September 30, and that's a concern for groups such as the Northwest Sports-Fishing Industry Association.

Liz Hamilton is the executive director of that group.

"The Land and Water Conservation Fund programs have generally maintained access for those of us who hunt and fish and hike and canoe and boat,” Hamilton said. “So, they're not protecting lands to lock them up. They're protecting lands for public use and public purposes."

Hamilton noted that the program already is working with half the money intended, and she would like to see it fully funded. She also said maintaining access to public lands is integral to the state's economy.

Kate Wollney is regional manager for the travel company OARS and has been a rafting guide on the Rogue River for 26 years. The Rogue has seen more than $13 million in Land and Water Conservation Fund investments.

Along with keeping open access, the program also helped preserve the home of Zane Grey, an avid fisherman and author who lived and wrote on the Rogue in the 1930s. Wollney, speaking from the banks of the river, said Grey's writing inspired its conservation.

"In his novels, they were fiction but his characters had a really strong environmental message,” Wollney explained. “So, the cowboys would be sitting around the campfire, saying things in their dialogue like, 'Well, you know, Kev, if we don't do something about it, these places are all going to change.'"

Elizabeth Burghard, the Medford district manager for the Bureau of Land Management, said a lot of folks come to southwest Oregon specifically to explore the Rogue River. She spoke from the historic Rogue River Ranch.

"There are tens of thousands of visitors who come to this location,” Burghard said. “And I believe the last statistics that we had were that it provided for about $30 million in revenue on an annual basis, and those data were pulled from a decade ago. So it's really important to the economy."

In Oregon, outdoor recreation supports about one in every 20 jobs.

In-kind support was provided by American Rivers and OARS.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR