Wyden & Smith propose 125,000 acres of new wilderness

Last week, Senators Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith teamed up to propose a bill that would protect 125,000 acres of Mount Hood National Forest.

The senators' bill goes much further than a 77,500-acre bill passed by the House and shepherded by Congressmen Earl Blumenauer and Greg Walden.


From the Oregonian coverage:

The Smith-Wyden bill would permanently secure the knife-like ridge and virgin forests of Hunchback Mountain and the photogenic shimmer of Mirror Lake. It also designates almost 80 miles of the mountain's rivers as wild and scenic, so dams could never be built. ...

Walden and Blumenauer said in a telephone interview Thursday that they hoped the Senate bill will add momentum to their own efforts to establish new wilderness.

One potential stumbling block in the legislation is the land swap that would protect the Cooper Spur area on the north side of the mountain from development, while allowing condos to be built near Government Camp.

The issue is that the two pieces of land don't appraise for the same amount, though supporters argue that the intangible value of Cooper Spur makes the trade worthwhile. From the Hood River News:

Both Wyden and Smith contend that environmentally sensitive areas such as the north face of Mount Hood need to be protected from development. And housing should occur in areas that already possess the necessary infrastructure, such as Government Camp.

However, the senators want to impose three additional legislative safeguards for the public:

* Preservation of wetlands at the Government Camp property.
* Protection of public trails in the area.
* Elimination of tax breaks should the appraisal of the two properties have a difference in land valuation.


  • ph in corvallis (unverified)

    Does anyone have a link to a map of the Smith-Wyden proposal? Thanks

  • spicey (unverified)

    I still kinda like the idea of turning the whole area into a National Park - if we don't protect it, it will continue to be logged, developed and otherwise degraded.


    that's what I'm talking about!

  • ph in corvallis (unverified)

    A national park designation would prevent logging and may be a better regional economic strategy, but it's not necessarily the best way to protect the land from development and over-use.

  • spicey (unverified)

    ph in corvalis: A national park designation would prevent logging and may be a better regional economic strategy, but it's not necessarily the best way to protect the land from development and over-use.

    Great, what did you have in mind? Next to declaring the whole thing wilderness, National Park designation, is pretty much the most protected state that I know of.

  • KISS (unverified)

    My concern is the bill to allow logging in the event of a burn and logging roads can be made and used, even in wilderness territory, under the guise of salvaging valuable logs. If Walden is for it, be cautious.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)

    The problem with National Park status is that it would bring in a truckload of new tourists and infrastructure development. This was part of the concern when considering what to do with Steens Mt in Clinton years...

    The next best thing to do will be to remove the skiing concessions on the mountain...

  • jas (unverified)

    Thank you, Senator Wyden! I am thrilled to see permanent protections proposed for my favorite wild places in the Mount Hood National Forest, like Clackamas Canyon, Larch Mountain, the East Fork Hood River, and White River. The Senate proposal addresses my main concern about House legislation HR 5025 (and one expressed by many in the media and at public meetings), i.e. that it fails to protect some important landscapes and rivers. The Senate's excellent compromise should be acted on quickly and passed into law this year, so Oregonians can finally rest assured that these places will never fall prey to chainsaws or development.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)

    Gordon Smith must really be frightened for 08: his greenwashing antics (e.g., ANWR) are starting up 2 years earlier than usual!

  • Stevi Pearci (unverified)

    The press about this is really quite off the mark. They're making it sound like the senate has added a lot of Wilderness... Oregon has only protected 3.7% of the state as Wilderness... the senate version won't even bring that up to 3.8%. Washington State has done 10%, and CA has done 14%. There are a lot of areas that should be protected as Wilderness that the senate left out, especially on the east side. I'm tempted to support the senate bill because it seems like the best we could get at this time. At least the senate included East Fork Hood River and Fifteenmile Creek. Both houses of congress have some great areas included in their respective proposals, and both deserve credit. Let's hope they can both get along and just pass the senate compromise bill.

  • StevePedery (unverified)

    Folks who have been anxiously watching the debate on Mt. Hood Wilderness are pretty happy this week. The Wyden-Smith plan is a bi-partisan compromise between the small bill that the House of Representatives passed back in July (that would have protected 77,000 acres) and Wyden’s larger plan that sought to protect nearly 180,000 acres. I’d love to see more, but the 125,000-acre compromise is the middle ground.

    I was glad to see Rep. Walden in the Oregonian saying that the larger number of acres protected in the Senate compromise won’t be a problem. I’ve been at a number of forums and town hall meetings on Mt. Hood Wilderness over the last few years, and the consistent theme has been “protect all the unspoiled lands and rivers we have left.” I’ve never heard anyone say: “don’t protect too much.”

    And this compromise plan includes some great places that were left out of the House bill. The scenic canyons along the White River, the important wildlife migration corridors of Bonney Butte, the old-growth forest surrounding Memaloose Lake, and the beautiful whitewater of the East Fork of the Hood River, to name a few.

    Senators Wyden and Smith have met Representatives Walden and Blumenauer halfway—now we need the entire Congressional delegation to pull together behind this plan and get it passed this year.

  • frank carper (unverified)

    Gordon Smith must really be frightened for 08: his greenwashing antics (e.g., ANWR) are starting up 2 years earlier than usual!

    exactly! seems to me that with earl blumenauer ramping up his public profile, ol gordon figured he had to sign on to wyden's big bill and make sure blumenauer doesnt get a big win under his belt.

    sure is fun when the politics makes the policy get better.

  • Magnus (unverified)

    I congratulate Senator Wyden for standing up to protect the Mt. Hood national forest. This proposal,brought in a bipartisan way with Senator Smith, represents the best option for saving such a national treasure. Keep up the good work Senator Wyden!

  • Marybeth (unverified)

    The land trade provisions in the House bill are very troubling and the Senate version in not much better. Mt. Hood Meadows stands to gain tens of millions in development revenues in exchange for land with a much lower appraised value. The taxpayers are being fleeced in the name of taking care of Earl's big money campaign backers. Something smells and the Oregonian pointed out the collusion involved in this deal.

    Someone should be listening to the forest service officials instead of their big money contributors from Meadows.

  • (Show?)

    Marybeth -- Is a financial appraisal the only way to value the land?

    What price tag can you put on the public's interest to keep golf courses and condos off of the as-yet-undeveloped north side?

    Isn't it better to put condos near the state highway running through Govt Camp?

    Don't get me wrong: I'm sensitive to the idea of putting any development up there, but given that it's a choice... I think protecting the north side is more important.

  • ws (unverified)

    No further condo development on Mt Hood. No further expansion of chairlift ski facilities on Mt Hood. It's galling to have to bargain with businesses there to protect this precious little bit of nature. To allow them to effectively turn "their" peice of it into an exclusive resort for privilged and wealthy people is a disgrace.

    This area should be looked at from the standpoint of the millions of people Oregon seems to be welcoming as future residents of the state, and their accessibilty to the limited resources of the mountain. Moving in the direction of a public facility of some kind makes more sense.

    Yes, avoid the national park stigma that provokes a reflexive visitation instinct, but please try to think about the many people in the future who will want to come to Mt Hood and experience a bit of what it holds, maybe even stay there a day or two, and ski, only to be met by prvately owned condos, and exhorbitantly expensive chair lift rates. Hostels make more sense and seem more fair.

  • Blue Hat (unverified)


    Wow! Are you off base! Do you work for the US Forrest Service?

    They are the only group that wants to kill the land deal...why? Because wilderness costs them money. I would much rather have Mt. Hood Meadows develop a piece of property in Government Camp than on the North side of the mountain. That's what's at stake here! Mt. Hood Meadows controls a big piece of land on the North Side...they want to build a resort there.

    If "Marybeth" and her cronies at the Forrest Service have their way, than we will have development on the N. Side of the mountain, but will "protect" a small parcel of Gov. Camp (which is surrounded by development) Sometimes you have to make choices and I'm glad the Oregon delegation (Smith, Wyden, Blumenauer, Walden, DeFazio, and Hooley) have all decided NO DEVELOPMENT ON THE NORTH SIDE THE MT. HOOD!

  • spicey (unverified)

    A few years ago I attended a conference at Reed on forestry issues. Mostly, I was there to protest Mark Rey's visit, but afterwards stuck around to hear a panel with folks from CRAG (Cascadia Resource Action Group), The forestry (clear-cut) service, and Meadows. The presentations by the Forestry Service was almost the exact same presentation as the one by the rep. from Meadows. And, I've seen them together in other forums, as well. Hand in glove. So, my guess is that they are working together on this as they have in the past. Their interests seem to be in line with one another.

    One group that does really great work locally is BARK. I don't know if they've weighed in on this yet, but when they do it will be on their website.


  • Clack (unverified)

    The Forest Service hates Wilderness. Period. You may think the agency is all about good stewardship and Smokey the Bear, but the reality is the Forest Service is an extension of the logging industry. They do not want to see 125,000 acres of new Wilderness on Mt. Hood... they want to log that land.

    The Cooper Spur land swap has problems, for sure. But the real issue is the Forest Service trying to use it to kill the Wilderness deal. You think they really care about 100 acres in Govt. Camp, already surrounded by development? They would log that land, or sell it for development, in a heartbeat if it meant more money for the local Forest Service budget.

    Bottom line is Wyden and Smith have crafted a good deal for Oregonians who value wild lands, wildlife, and clean water, and now we need the entire Oregon Congressional delegation to work together to pass it. I really hope Rep. Walden and Blumenaeur get behind the compromise, and do not try and nickel and dime Mt. Hood Wilderness.

  • Chuck Paugh (unverified)

    It is a nice gesture, but let's put it in a little more perspective than 125,000 acres (195 square miles).

    This would be equal to a community 14 miles by 14 miles in size -- roughly put, the size of the average Oregon town.

    Putting it into this perspective, it is still a great addition, but you realize it isn't as marvelous sounding as 125,000 acres. It is what it is, so don't let yourself be dazzled by this “gift from on high” because it isn't as fantastic as it sounds.

  • jrw (unverified)

    Disclaimer: I work on the Mountain and a lot of students on my caseload depend financially either directly or indirectly on the ski areas, services and other related tourist developments in that area.

    WS, you have no real clue about the degree to which locals benefit from the resort services on Hood. Additionally, many of those same locals manage to use those areas--especially Timberline--to their benefit. Many of my students find a way to ski or snowboard in the winter, either through employee discounts through their parents or through their own work. Many kids from Sandy on up through Govvy turn to the ski areas and resorts for jobs; many of 'em would move heaven and earth to translate that work into cheap or free ski/snowboard time. Besides, the Sandy ski team can kick butt on the Bend ski team when the state finals are held in their backyard at Ski Bowl. ;-)

    Hood is NOT Aspen, nor is it likely to become Aspen. Even though Govvy prices sometimes make it seem that way...all you have to do is compare Govvy, Rhody, Welches and Brightwood prices to Estes Park, Aspen, Breckenridge, etc, etc, etc in Colorado to see the difference. I just got back from a brief vacation in Rocky Mountain National Park--anyone who wants to see a real industrial tourist park in action, complete with relevant housing prices...just go there and check it out. National Parks are not the end-all, be-all solution, but if well-designed and well-managed, then good stuff can happen. Even if RMNP has a major elk overpopulation issue...I saw more elk this year than I've ever seen there before.

    I'm also a pragmatic environmentalist. It makes much more sense to me to keep development situated on the south side of Hood and limit the areas to what's already developed and keep the North wild. I just flew over the north side today and I'd like to see it protected more. Tie it in to the Columbia Gorge National Monument somehow. That's an automatic linkage right there.

    We cannot, however, establish wilderness by fiat without providing a way for the locals to survive. Hostels aren't going to provide that solution.

  • Brian Smith (unverified)

    Marybeth- You make a good point. As Democrats, I'd like to think we value transparency and accountability in the democratic process. We certainly love to bash Republicans for their recent abuse of these principles. Unfortunately, it seems people like Blue Hat would only pay lip service to these ideals, and when the tables are turned they would condone this ends justify the means approach to governing. Don't get me wrong- protecting wilderness on Mt. Hood is a laudable goal. But there was absolutely no reason why this Government Camp land swap could not be subjected to the usual independent appraisal process. There was no reason why there could not be the usual environmental impact assesment. There was no reason why the appraisal process could not be held to public scrutiny. No reason, it seems, except for maybe one- in kind campaign contributions from the Mt. Hood Meadows people. It's not the Forest Service that threatens to derail this bill, but the stupid indiscretions of Walden and Blumenauer. But I suspect this isn't the end of this story, although many Republicans and Democrats would like to push it under the rug. Especially if the GAO investigates.

  • Blue Hat (unverified)


    I agree with your point but you need to overlay the facts.

    The land swap was part of a mediated settlement between enviros, Hood River residents, and Meadows. This is part of a 30 years dispute.

    My understanding is that Walden and Blumenauer put it in their bill after 3 public meetings...one at Timberline, one in Hood River, and one in Portland...they also had a heading in Washington, DC. Pretty transparent. Maybe you just weren't paying attention.

    Also, it was Walden and Blumenauer who called for the GAO to take a look at this.

    Also, Wyden and Smith also put the land swap in their proposal. Why? Because this is good public policy supported by almost everyone (except the Forrest Service). Environmentalists...local government.... small business. Why? Because it protect the North side of Mt. Hood from development.

    It seems simple, if the land swap doesn’t go through, than Meadows will build a resort on the N. Side taking away what would be wilderness and endangering the Cooper Spur watershed. Is that what you want?

    If not, what’s your idea to protect it? Meadows has the right to develop the property (they may have a few legal fights to win, but most people think it could happen)

    And let’s hear real answers, not fairy tale answers like: “just make it all wilderness”…Rep. Pombo (Chair of the House Resources Committee) will never let that happen.

  • Marybeth (unverified)

    Let's get real Blue Hat (or are you actually one of Meadows hired guns/lobbyists/consultants?). I do not work for the Forest Service or have ANY connection to the Forest Service. I am an avid recreational user of the mountain who owns a vacation property on the mountain and who has a pretty good idea of the relative property values on the mountain. I also have a thirty plus year background in Oregon government and politics (and natural resource issues).

    The land Meadows owns in the Cooper Spur region will never be developed substanially (despite their threats) because it has little to recommend it in way of location, transportation corridors, ease of development and most of all desirability as a destination resort. Meadows threats are empty for these reasons as well as the substantial opposition to the project from everyone but Meadows. As a result, the value of the land is not very high to any prospective buyers.

    The land in Government Camp on the other hand is worth a fortune! It is in a prime location with excellent access to facilities, amenities, transportation corridors, two ski areas and more. Just take a look at the price of land, condos, homes in the area.

    The lack of comparable value between the two tracts of land is THE issue. Under the House bill, Meadows fleeces the taxpayers for tens of millions of dollars in value. I am not opposed to the Govt. Camp land being developed (I actually support expansion of recreational use and infrastructure on this portion of the mountain) - I just believe Meadows should have to pay a full market-based rate for the true value of the land - or probably a better option - the Forest Service ought to seek bids on the land to assure the taxpayers get full value.

    The proceeds from such a sale could be used to secure additional wilderness land from private owners (including Meadows and the Cooper Spur tract which is not suited to development) and be reinvested in the Mt. Hood National Forest.

    Blue Hat and his buddies from Mt. Hood Meadows are looking to use the threat of development at Cooper Spur (which is an empty threat) to fleece the taxpayers for a lot of money. This is what stinks!

  • Blue Hat (unverified)


    Then are you mad that Sen. Wyden and Smith put the land swap in their proposal too....?

    And how do you propose we protect (put into wilderness) the North side of the mountain if we can't get Meadows to give it up? I'm sure the environmental lawyers...Hood River County....our Congressional delegation, and the Senator would love to know. This dispute has been going for 30 years....this solution seems to be the only constructive one. If you have a better idea on how to protect Cooper Spur and the N. Side...let's hear it!

    P.S. I don't work for Meadows....and even know any of the folks, but I do care about protecting the North side of the mountain, unlike you!

  • Brian Smith (unverified)

    Blue Hat- Here are some key facts as I understand them. There were public hearings into the land swap, however the public never had the opportunity to review the land appraisals themselves, which I understand to be common federal procedure. And the GAO investigation that Walden called for was specifically for just the appraisal methodology, not the whole deal. And Walden only called for this investigation after being badgered by the Oregonian for weeks. Finally, last week Smith and Wyden both told the Oregonian that the land exchange would not be included in the Senate bill as it is currently written in the House bill (August 18th) because the exchange has to meet federal appraisal standards. They believe the appraisal methods used in the House version of the bill would kill the bill in the Senate. So if you have different sources that point to different facts, please let me know where to find this information.

  • Bill Bob (unverified)
    <h2>Environmentalists remind me of fiddles, being played like crazy by Senator Wyden on this wilderness issue. Two years ago, Wyden introduces a massive bill that he has no intention of moving just to showboat in an election year. Environmentalist lapdogs respond by peeing all over themselves in reverence for the Senator as the bill languishes and the Senator does nothing. Then, two years later, Senator Wyden waits until the very end of the Congress before introducing a bill and can't even secure a subcommittee hearing until two days before Congress adjourns. Wyden is clearly adept at keeping the enivronmentalists just enough on the hook that they don't stray far, but in the end, the Senator's real commitment to this issue will be measured by his ability to bring home the wilderness bacon, rather than just grabbing headlines. It all seems pretty obvious. Oregon greens ought to see the forest through the trees on this one, to avoid having their interests stumped...</h2>
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