September can be a wonderful time to get out and enjoy Oregon’s public lands and wilderness areas. September is also National Public Lands Month and this Saturday, September 23, is National Public Lands Day. President Biden has also recently proclaimed this as National Wilderness Month.
To make it even easier for you to enjoy your public lands, the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service will be waiving recreation fees for day-use sites on September 23 for the public lands the agencies manage. Every day is a good day to explore Oregon’s public lands, but it’s especially true this Saturday!
We have some incredible and diverse public lands and wilderness areas in Oregon–from iconic volcanoes like Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson, to the wild rivers and towering waterfalls of the Cascades, the remnant ancient forests of the Coast Range, and the high alpine peaks and lakes of Central Oregon and the Wallowas. These wild places offer endless opportunities to explore and recreate.
Protecting our public lands is good for business and the environment:
- These public lands are vital to Oregon’s booming outdoor recreation and tourism economy. A 2021 Travel Oregon study found that outdoor recreation in the state supports 224,000 jobs and generates $15.6 billion in consumer spending.
- These lands and waters also provide clean air and clean drinking water, provide connected and intact wildlife habitat to threatened and endangered species, protect biodiversity, and present cheap and reliable climate solutions by storing vast amounts of carbon in trees and soils.
Despite what you may think, not all of Oregon’s public land is protected for conservation. A meager 4% of Oregon is designated Wilderness, compared to 10% in Washington and 15% in California. Jewels such as central Oregon’s Lookout Mountain, the Owyhee canyonlands, the Wild Rogue, and thousands of acres of ponderosa forests in eastern Oregon are just a few examples of our stunning, yet unprotected wild lands. Our wild rivers aren’t any better off. Only 2% of our nearly 111,000 total river miles in Oregon are protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act–our nation’s foremost river conservation tool. These unprotected lands and waters remain open to development, logging, mining, damming, and other destructive activities.
Fortunately, we now have a historic opportunity to protect 3,200 miles of public land rivers in Oregon under Senator Ron Wyden’s River Democracy Act. This legislation would bring additional safeguards for fish and wildlife habitat, carbon-storing forests, clean drinking water, and outdoor recreation to watersheds around the state. This includes amazing waterways like the McKenzie River, Upper Deschutes, Rogue, North Umpqua, Grande Ronde, Middle Fork Willamette, North Santiam, and many, many others.
Our public lands can’t protect themselves
This Public Lands Month, enjoy the spectacular public lands Oregon has to offer! But don’t forget to advocate for those same places. Many of the places we enjoy today would not be the same without those who came before us. Advocate for the protection of intact landscapes for wildlife habitat and connectivity; advocate for increased access, diversity, and inclusion in public lands for underserved and underrepresented communities; advocate for the lasting protection of these treasured places as an enduring legacy for future generations. Call, write, tweet, and send letters to your elected officials encouraging them to advocate for these places as well. Sign on as a citizen co-sponsor of the River Democracy Act. Remember that these are your public lands, our public lands; visit them, love them, cherish them, and always speak up for them.