FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Devil’s Staircase Wilderness, Molalla River Wild & Scenic Pass Key Committee
Two Oregon gems continue to sail through Congress towards protection
Popular protections move forward in an otherwise stalled-out Congress. Key Senate votes still ahead.Portland, Ore Oct 28, 2009
While Congress continues to slog through big issues like health reform and climate change, two Oregon conservation bills continued to beat a quick path to the President’s desk today. Bills that would protect the mythical Devil’s Staircase waterfall and the clean, rushing water of the Molalla River passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee this morning and are now headed for a full floor vote. The two bills, sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio and Rep. Kurt Schrader, would protect the Devil’s Staircase as Wilderness and safeguard the Molalla as a Wild & Scenic River and have the backing of dozens of community groups, conservation organizations, and local businesses.
“It’s been encouraging and a little bit surprising to see how fast these bills have moved through Congress,” said Erik Fernandez with the conservation group Oregon Wild, who pointed out the legislation has also passed out of a Senate subcommittee. “It’s a testament to how popular the Devil’s Staircase and the Molalla River are and how important all wild areas are to Oregonians.”
Slated for the highest possible federal protection is the Devil’s Staircase (H.R. 2888), located west of Eugene in the Wasson Creek area of the Coast Range. The 29,600-acre proposal features rugged mountains blanketed with some of the last old-growth remaining in the Coast Range, providing prime habitat for dozens of unique species. Locals have been fighting to protect this magical place since the 1970s.
The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, who share management responsibilities for areas covered by the proposed Wilderness, have both endorsed the legislation.
Located southeast of Portland, the Molalla River has long provided clean drinking water for the cities of Canby and Molalla. The Wild & Scenic River proposal in the legislation heard today (H.R. 2781) would protect 21 miles of the Molalla and its tributary the Table Rock Fork. A Wild & Scenic River designation would ensure future generations could enjoy the whitewater rafting, prime fishing, and other traditional recreational opportunities that the river provides.
A full House vote on the two bills is expected soon and passage in the Senate may come in similar fashion to the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009, signed into law in April. That bill included long-sought protections for Mount Hood, the Columbia River Gorge, Soda Mountain, Copper Salmon, and the Badlands Wilderness. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) had held up the bipartisan legislation for nearly a year before it was finally passed. Ultimately, Wilderness proponents were able to overcome Coburn by wrapping many popular bills together. A similar process is expected for this most recent round of conservation legislation.
“Congress has blazed the path forward and knows how to get these protections finalized,” added Fernandez. “We expect ‘Dr. No Part II’ to be in theaters for a much shorter time this go-round. And frankly in the face of climate change, we don’t have time to waste when it comes to protecting our natural legacy.”