Congressman Blumenauer hosts Wilderness Act public forum

Local environmental groups and community members gathered in Smith Memorial Student Union for the Wilderness Act 50th Anniversary: What’s At Stake For Oregon? public forum, hosted by Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Oct. 7

A series of speakers involved in environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Wild and others, spoke about areas in Oregon that they want declared as wildlife by the state. Some of these places included the Owyhee River, the Wild Rogue, the Kalmiopsis and many more.

Congressman Blumenauer opened the forum by recognizing the attending organizations and the advances that the state has made in protecting Oregon’s wildlands.

“Over these years in Congress, it’s been some of my most vivid memories of being a part of the efforts to understand and protect the natural landscape.”

Blumenauer emphasized the importance of getting more people involved if there is to be any progress made in protecting Oregon wilderness.

“It’s going to be important to build the awareness of these proposals if we’re going to be able to move anything through Congress anytime soon,” Blumenauer said. “Meetings like this, being able to refine the proposals, to be able to get more people involved and build momentum is going to be key to ultimate success.”

Bridget Callahan, wilderness campaign organizer for Oregon Wild, spoke to inform the audience of two wilderness campaigns: Mount Hood, and how they want to add more designated wild areas there, and Crater Lake.

“The actual park itself is not designated wilderness,” Callahan said. “We would like to add about half a million acres [to Crater Lake].”

Callahan said that this would not include existing roads and infrastructure, so anything currently in the park would stay.

“It is the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and it’s a great time to reflect on how far we’ve come but also looking ahead to the future,” Callahan said.

Executive Director of KS Wild Joseph Vaile said that their organization has been working on the Rogue Wilds wilderness expansion, including the Rogue River. “This bill has been introduced three different times in Congress and it has the support of the Oregon congressional delegation but unfortunately it hasn’t gone anywhere yet,” Vaile said.

The reason the bills aren’t moving, according to Vaile, is that Congress is not functioning at the level that it should be.

“It just is unfortunate how dysfunctional Congress is right now,” Vaile said. “It’s kind of frustrating for a lot of people that very little is getting done.”

Zach Collier, river rafting guide with Northwest Rafting Company who is active in wilderness conservation efforts and partnered with KS Wild, spoke in regards to the Kalmiopsis and its surrounding rivers.

“There are more rare and endangered plants in this area than anywhere in Oregon,” Collier said. “I do travel around the world and see a lot of special rivers and I have to say, there is nowhere in the world that has such a concentration of amazingly beautiful clear waters. It’s uniquely special.”

The Wilderness Act was signed in 1964 and was written by Howard Zahniser. The act defines wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain” (National Park Services). The act has also protected 9.1 million acres of land as wilderness.

Now, more than 106 million acres of federal public land is designated wilderness.