An Oregon Perspective: Using Innovation to Protect our Natural Resources and Boost our Economy

The very first vote I took as a U.S. Senator was one that embodies a vision I’ve brought with me from Oregon to Washington, D.C.:  we can create jobs and rebuild our economy at the same time we protect our natural resources.

That first vote was in favor of a public lands bill that creates new wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, and national recreation areas across Oregon.  On Mt. Hood and in the Columbia Gorge, the bill protects 127,000 acres as wilderness, creates 34,000 acres of national recreation areas, and designates 79 miles of rivers as Wild and Scenic Rivers.  The legislation also protects pristine areas around the Elk River and its productive salmon and steelhead runs, fairly compensates ranchers for retiring grazing allotments in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, and protects important recreation and hunting areas in the Badlands outside Bend and Spring Basin along the John Day River.

When I talk to folks from other areas of the country, they consistently compliment Oregon’s beautiful landscape.  I’ve been lucky enough to swim in the Umpqua River as a child in Southern Oregon and take my family camping at lakes near Mt. Hood as a parent.  More importantly, having grown up in a small mill town, I know that these natural resources are vital to our identity as a state and our historic timber and fishing economies.  Oregon gains jobs and economic value from protected areas of our forests.  Recreational activities, including hunting and fishing, contribute $2.1 billion to our state’s economy and the drinking water that flows from forests across the Northwest is worth more than $950 million.

I’m proud to be part of passing legislation that not only allows generations of Oregonians to admire and enjoy these natural areas but bolsters Oregon’s natural resource economy.
In just the first few weeks of this session of Congress, we’ve been able to do a lot of good work that will help create jobs and boost the economy as well as protect the environment.  The economic stimulus bill contains significant new funding for forest health projects, programs that put people to work making energy-efficient renovations to homes and businesses, and renewable energy projects that create jobs and reduce carbon emissions.

The bill to fund government programs this year, which we are currently debating in the Senate, also helps advance this agenda.  It increases funding for weatherization programs to help low-income families save energy, and includes almost $1 million for Oregon’s first-in-the-nation solar highway project as well as $1.5 million for a geothermal power plant on the campus of the Oregon Institute of Technology.  This power plant would make OIT the only campus in the world able to run completely on geothermal energy.  Oregon’s smaller schools would also see a benefit – the bill includes funding for Columbia Gorge Community College’s wind energy workforce training program.

We are also providing $4.5 million to develop bio-products and bio-based energy projects that will help position Oregon as a leader in sustainable energy production.  It is projects like these that are going to create new jobs and allow Oregon’s economy to thrive as we transition to an economy that relies on domestically produced renewable economy instead of foreign oil and other fossil fuels.

Beyond the green energy provisions, the legislation contains more than $800,000 for projects to support Oregon’s salmon fishing industry with research into disease reduction in the Klamath River Salmon population. 

Oregon is known for its long history of conserving the natural resources that are the foundation of our economy.  From the public lands protections championed by Senator Mark Hatfield to the historic land-use measures led by Governor Tom McCall, we have preserved our natural treasures and kept much of our land in working farms and forestry.   It is an honor to serve Oregonians by continuing this tradition of stewardship.  I look forward to discussing innovative solutions and important projects that will preserve our natural resources with Oregonians at town hall meetings around the state.