Group says Gorge plan too narrow

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Commission changed definition of natural resources in plan


Capital Press

A plan for managing the Columbia River Gorge unlawfully excludes land, air, plants and plant habitat from the list of protected natural resources in the area, an environmental group says.

Friends of the Columbia Gorge recently argued before the Oregon Court of Appeals that the plan violated a federal law established to preserve the scenic beauty of nearly 300,000 acres along the river.

"There is absolutely no rational explanation whatsoever why they picked the more restrictive definition of natural resources," said Gary Kahn, an attorney for the group. "With one sweep of a pen a year ago, these resources are no longer protected."

The environmental group is challenging revisions to a management plan made by the Columbia River Gorge Commission, an interstate agency that oversees the federally designated national scenic area.

The group fears that narrowing the list of protected natural resources in the management plan will make the area more vulnerable to logging and development.

The commission, which covers six counties in Oregon and Washington, counters that its decision to change the definition of natural resources was supported by an analysis by its staff.

"The staff report has significance in determining the commission's rationale here," said Jeff Litwak, an attorney for the commission.

The current dispute between the environmental group and the commission stems from a 2009 decision by the Oregon Supreme Court.

In that case, the state's highest court found that the management plan for the area had conflicting definitions of "natural resources" -- one that included geological features and one that didn't. The ruling required the commission to resolve this discrepancy.

The agency decided that counties already have primary responsibility over geologic features and chose the definition of natural resources that included only "wetlands, streams, ponds and lakes, riparian areas, wildlife and wildlife habitat, rare plants and natural areas."

The commission claims the Oregon Supreme Court decision requires it to pick a definition while the Friends of the Columbia Gorge "would prefer the commission enact new, more or different regulations," according to a court document.

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