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Oregon Wildlands Protection Bill Moves Ahead in Senate

A bill in the U.S. Senate would add about 30,000 acres to the Devil's Staircase Wilderness. (Mike Putnam)
A bill in the U.S. Senate would add about 30,000 acres to the Devil's Staircase Wilderness. (Mike Putnam)
October 3, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. - A bill to protect thousands of acres and miles of river in Oregon has passed out of a key U.S. Senate committee.

The Oregon Wildlands Act, introduced by Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both D-Ore., would designate more than 200,000 acres as wilderness and national recreation areas and add more than 250 miles of wild-and-scenic river protections to the state.

Much of it is centered around the Rogue River, one of the original eight to gain wild-and-scenic protections 50 years ago, but Robyn Janssen, director of Rogue Riverkeeper, said those protections only extend a quarter-mile up the waterway's canyons, leaving much of the area vulnerable to development.

"The forest and wild lands way up on the ridge tops above the river aren't protected," she said, "and those really important tributary streams that feed lots of cold, clear water into the Rogue and support our amazing salmon fishery, those tributaries aren't totally supported and protected."

The bill would add acreage to the Wild Rogue and Devil's Staircase Wilderness areas and wild-and-scenic river protections to western Oregon rivers. It also would give recreation-area protections to the Molalla and Rogue rivers.

The bill, Senate Bill 1548, represents more than 20 years of negotiations, and backers have said it would conserve lands integral to Oregon's recreation economy, which generates $16.4 billion annually in consumer spending and supports more than 170,000 jobs, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

Janssen said greater safeguards would protect jobs near the Rogue River.

"It is a really important resource for us in so many different ways, but especially for the local economy," she said. "And if it wasn't protected and it was being developed or being abused by resource extraction, those jobs would be threatened."

Tuesday was the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Chris Daughters, owner of the Caddis Fly Angling Shop in Eugene, said he believes that without protections, the region's world-class fisheries are in danger. He said he also wants the next generation to enjoy these lands.

"We can talk about the immediate needs of the angler, we can talk about the immediate needs for the businesses and the critical outdoor industry in the state of Oregon from fishing, hiking, boating, etc.," he said, "but we've got to look down the road for our children as well."

The text of SB 1548 is online at, and OIA data is at


Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR