New wilderness bill seeks protection of Rogue and Molalla

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — After passing legislation earlier this year that applied the highest form of environmental protection to tens of thousands of acres and hundreds of miles of rivers in Oregon, Sen. Ron Wyden has returned with a new conservation bill.

The Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley, would create new recreation areas around the Rogue and Molalla rivers, expand the Wild Rogue Wilderness and outlaw mining on 100,000 acres in southwest Oregon, the Statesman Journal reported Friday.

The Democratic two senators said establishing the protected areas would increase the state’s outdoor recreation economy, but opponents said the legislation could make wildfires worse, especially in a southwest Oregon region hit hard by wildfire the past five years, while limiting timber supply.

The bill would create three new recreation or wilderness areas. It includes:

— Molalla Recreation Area: Establish a 30,000-acre (12,140 hectare) recreation area on the banks of the Molalla River in Clackamas County next to the Table Rock Wilderness Area.

— Rogue Canyon Recreation Area: Establish a 98,000-acre (39,600-hectare) recreation area on the banks of the Rogue River in Southwestern Oregon next to the Wild Rogue Wilderness Area.

— Wild Rogue Wilderness Expansion: Expand the existing Wild Rogue Wilderness Area by about 60,000 acres (24,000 hectares). The federal land included within this expansion has been set aside by federal land managers as land that should be protected and conserved.

All three pieces were in previous legislation that came close to passing in a public lands package earlier this year but were stripped out following objections from Oregon Rep. Greg Walden. At the time, Walden objected to expanding new wilderness because of concerns that it would allow catastrophic wildfires to grow.

The bill would also enshrine a mineral withdrawal that prevents mining on 100,000 acres of Forest Service land around the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area in the Siskiyou Mountains between Grants Pass and Gold Beach.