Wild and scenic rivers

Oregon’s 68 current wild and scenic rivers.

People across Eastern Oregon — and the rest of the state, for that matter — are right to question a proposal by Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden to designate 4,700 miles of rivers, creeks, ditches and swales as federal “wild and scenic rivers.”

Perhaps a few actual rivers might deserve attention, but 4,700 miles? That’s the distance from Portland to Oslo, Norway.

When we think of wild and scenic rivers, we think of the Rogue River in Western Oregon or the Metolius River in Central Oregon. In fact, those rivers are already designated wild and scenic — along with 66 others across the state. All told, 1,916 miles of rivers have been designated, according to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System website.

One wonders where the friends of Wyden and Merkley found any actual rivers that hadn’t already been designated. In Wallowa County, commissioners hired a consulting firm to track down 404 miles of “rivers” proposed to be designated wild and scenic. They found that most are not even labeled rivers, are not free-flowing and do not have water year-round.

If they are not rivers, how could they be designed wild and scenic rivers?

It’s time for Wyden and Merkley to rethink this bill. Whatever the intent of the bill is, it’s not protecting wild and scenic rivers, because that’s already been done.

The senators say school children and others came up with the list of new rivers. That’s why they called their bill the River Democracy Act.

Maybe school children and environmental groups had a say in the bill, but Eastern Oregon counties didn’t.

Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ore., said he talked with the 63 commissioners representing the 20 counties in his 69,000-square-mile congressional district; 53 commissioners oppose the River Democracy Act.

When Eastern Oregon counties questioned the need to designate more rivers — and to expand the protected zones to a half mile on each side — the senators said they had sent a letter last fall informing them of their plan.

That, of course, is not the point.

The point is that Oregon’s senators would think this is a good idea, without benefit of local support and without fully considering how it will impact Oregonians.

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