Mount Hood plan clears first hurdle in Congress

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

July 22, 2006

A master plan to protect resources and increase recreational opportunities on Mount Hood moved one step closer to reality Wednesday.

U.S. Reps. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland, gained unanimous approval from the House Resources Committee for their legislative blueprint. The Mt. Hood Stewardship Legacy Act, also known as House Resolution 5025, could be brought to the floor for a full House vote as early as next week.

Both Blumenauer and Walden are pushing to get the bill sent to the Senate before the August break. They anticipate there could be some revisions from that elected body but no major “sticking points” to hold up its passage.

Especially since HR5025 has a broad base of support from Oregon agency heads, public recreation groups, tribal leaders and the environmental community.

The bill has been cosponsored by U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Darlene Hooley, D-Ore. In addition, it has earned support from Wasco, Clackamas, Multnomah and Hood River counties, Portland Mayor Tom Potter, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and numerous state and national conservation groups.

“We’ve kind of worked to push the limits in areas of consensus. And it is something where there are no serious objections,” said Blumenauer. “This is legislation that could be sent directly to the Senate floor and passed or it could be a core for somebody to take and add to it.”

Walden and Blumenauer were heartened that two other “moderately contentious” bills expanding Wilderness areas in Idaho and California also made it through the House committee on July 19. They said HR5025 —which adds 77,500 acres of new Wilderness to the national forest — had such strong support it seemed even more likely to go the distance in the political arena.

“Process matters to people. The bottom line is that they want to have their say. And we did everything we could to follow a slow and deliberate process that allowed people to participate fully,” said Walden. “I think we showed that if you do it right, you can get things done.”

He and Blumenauer spent years collaborating with stakeholders in public forums, round table discussions, and in-depth meetings with scientists. Some of these conversations took place while the bipartisan team was undertaking a 41-mile hike along the Timberline Trail.

Before sitting down to craft legislation, Walden and Blumenauer wanted to clearly understand the complex issues related to the mountain that is visited by millions of people each year.

They also consulted regularly with other members of the Oregon delegation while working out the details on their proposal. As a result, Walden said HR5025 charts a comprehensive course for preserving wild places, managing future recreation and transportation uses, upholding Native American rights, and ensuring forest and watershed health.

“This bill preserves Mount Hood for future generations to know the mountain the way we know it, and the way our parents knew it,” he said.

Eric Fernandez, wilderness coordinator for the Oregon Natural Resources Council, was pleased by this week’s House action.

“For the bill to pass unanimously out of a notoriously anti-conservation committee shows that there is significant support for Wilderness protection from both Republicans and Democrats,” he said.

The ONRC joins many other conservation groups in the quest to have the Senate expand the 41 percent increase in Wilderness acres that is recommended by Walden and Blumenauer.

“We are looking for the Senate to add Wilderness protections for important salmon and wildlife areas like Boulder Lake and Fifteenmile Creek that were left out of the House bill,” said Fernandez.

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