Senators expand Mount Hood plan

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

August 19, 2006

U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Gordon Smith, R-Ore., want to add 125,000 more acres of Wilderness to Mount Hood, about 50,000 less than Wyden first proposed — but almost 48,000 more than recently approved by the House of Representatives.

In addition, the federal officials plan to introduce legislation by Sept. 5 that adds almost 80 miles of Wild and Scenic River protection to waterways. That is 55 more miles than included in the Mount Hood Legacy Act written by U.S. Reps. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.

Wyden and Smith’s bill will include 18,700 acres of Mount Hood National Forest Recreation Areas. They intend to improve access for mountain biking and other activities — while still allowing forest health projects to be completed.

“It’s been 20 years since any additional Wilderness protections have been added to protect Mount Hood, but development and usage of these areas have not stood still,” said Wyden. “Many thousands of Oregonians have asked Congress to provide more Wilderness to respond to these demands and today we are answering their call.”

Smith said, “Oregonians love our state’s natural beauty. They want to protect it and they want to enjoy it. I believe that when we seek balance, we find consensus and our success has come because we sought to protect Mount Hood the right way, and in a very bipartisan fashion.”

Blumenauer and Walden are looking forward to seeing further details of the new plan. After three years of meetings with more than 1,000 stakeholders, they crafted House Resolution 5025 this spring. Their bill received unanimously approval from the House in July.

“It’s encouraging to have a bill now on the senate side. I look forward to hearing the specifics on their bill,” said Blumenauer.

“With only 12 legislative days left, there isn’t time for the process that we went through. But we shared virtually every day what was happening with our legislation so they are very aware of the underpinnings of our bill,” said Walden.

The conceptual plan released by Wyden and Smith on Aug. 17 gave tentative approval of the land exchange between Mt. Hood Meadows Oregon LC and the federal government. That proposal was the result of mediation between Meadows and the Hood River Valley Residents Committee.

Under that agreement, Meadows will sign over 786 acres of Cooper Spur Mountain Resort holdings in the southern sector of Hood River County. In return, HRVRC will not oppose Meadows’ plan to build condominiums on 120 acres of forest near Government Camp that has been zoned for that purpose by Clackamas County.

Both Wyden and Smith contend that environmentally sensitive areas such as the north face of Mount Hood need to be protected from development. And housing should occur in areas that already possess the necessary infrastructure, such as Government Camp.

However, the senators want to impose three additional legislative safeguards for the public:

* Preservation of wetlands at the Government Camp property.

* Protection of public trails in the area.

* Elimination of tax breaks should the appraisal of the two properties have a difference in land valuation.

Also approved by Smith and Wyden is the land exchange that allows the Port of Cascade Locks to expand protection along a 10-acre section of Pacific Crest Trail that lies within its ownership. The public agency wants to swap that parcel with 10 acres owned by the U.S. Forest Service within the city’s urban growth boundary. That property would be used to construct the city’s only senior housing development.

In early September, Smith and Wyden will also introduce legislation dealing with grazing in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. That bill would permanently retire grazing allotments within the Monument and designate about 23,000 acres of new Wilderness in that area.

In 2004, Wyden introduced the Lewis and Clark Mount Hood Wilderness Act that called for 177,000 acres of added forest protection. However, that legislation was never moved forward.

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