Daily Courier: Commissioners vote 2-1 to oppose wilderness plan
By Jeff Duewel of the Daily Courier, March 8, 2012
At least 40 people weighed in on a proposed expansion of wilderness on the lower Rogue River, and after three hours Josephine County commissioners on Wednesday voted 2-1 to oppose the plan.
The debate at the packed Anne Basker Auditorium was more symbolic than meaningful, since it's a federal issue. Nonetheless, the planned 65,000-acre expansion of the Wild Rogue Wilderness is a hot topic, said Commissioner Simon Hare, who went to Washington last week and met with the Oregon congressional delegation.
That's because it's intertwined with the funding crisis facing western Oregon counties, with the end of the "county payments" program.
The wilderness expansion proposal is part of an overall plan by Reps. Peter DeFazio and Greg Walden to divide O&C lands into roughly half for logging and half for preservation. In addition, 96 miles of Rogue tributaries would be given Wild and Scenic river status, and would be off limits to mining and logging.
DeFazio wrote in a letter published in the Daily Courier on Wednesday that the new wilderness is part of a two-year-old deal with the timber industry.
"It would be created "only as part of the bipartisan O&C package written by me, Rep. Kurt Schrader and Rep. Greg Walden," DeFazio wrote. "Let me repeat that: no O&C package, no Rogue Wilderness addition. But inclusion of the Rogue is key to garnering the support of the governor and Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, who will be responsible for moving the O&C proposal through the U.S. Senate."
Hare expressed misgivings with creating more wilderness, but voted against the resolution because he wanted wording changed. Harold Haugen and Don Reedy voted for it.
Hare later said the changes wouldn't have altered the premise, just refined it.
He isn't optimistic about solving the O&C lands issue any time soon.
"Based on my trip to D.C., I don't know if we're going to make a lot of progress on the O&C trust or wilderness this year," Hare said.
Hare acknowledged the impact of the Rogue River on the local economy, but said "we can find middle ground without designating a wilderness."
Dave Strahan, outdoor recreation salesman and representative of the Wild Rogue Alliance, made a presentation in favor of the wilderness plan. He said he's not against logging, but preserving the Rogue River is also important for the future.
"The Rogue River is in my blood," Strahan said. "I don't belong to an environmental group, I'm not an ecoterrorist and I'm not evil," a reference to heated comments earlier from those espousing more mining and logging.
Hare had to cool things down a couple of times when harsh words flew during two hours of public comment prior to presentations by Strahan and Shane Jimerfield of Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center.
Strahan cited a study showing a $16 million impact on the economy and 250 full- or part-time jobs based solely on the Rogue River's Wild and Scenic portions.
"The Rogue River is our icon and drawing card," Strahan said. "I'm asking that we protect the asset we have."
The wilderness opposition was a repeat of points made at a town hall-style meeting a few weeks ago at the fairgrounds, focusing on the ability to use natural resources to stimulate the economy.
"Please do not buy into their agenda," said Ron Glenn of Wolf Creek, holding up a map highlighting existing wilderness areas.