CASCADE LOCKS, Ore. (KOIN) — On Sept. 9, Oregon Rep. Greg Walden introduced a bill called the Scenic Columbia River Gorge Restoration Act that would allow salvage logging in the areas affected by the Eagle Creek Fire.
“It’s one of those things you hope you never see in your lifetime,” Walden said in a press conference on Sept. 9 about the Eagle Creek Fire. “Once you see it, you become pretty passionate about how do we fix it, how do we restore it, how do we get back to full life.”
Local conversation groups are angered by Walden’s solution, citing the environmental repercussions that salvage logging could have on the future of the area.
“He calls it a salvage logging bill?” said Michael Lang, the conservation director of the Friends of the Columbia River Gorge. “It’s not saving or salvaging anything. What this type of logging does after fires is actually destroy biodiversity, destroy the environment and lead to forests that are more prone to catastrophic fires in the future.
“We think it’s completely premature.”
Walden released this statement to KOIN 6 about the bill.
“Catastrophic fires like the Eagle Creek fire happen increasingly across our state each summer and choke our air, pumping carbon and particulates into the atmosphere. Meanwhile, fuel loads continue to grow as science-based projects to manage our forests languish in litigious gridlock. I am committed to fixing the broken federal forest policy that creates that gridlock, to the detriment of our forests, communities and health. Part of that is improving how we restore and reforest burned areas, such as those affected by the Eagle Creek fire in the Gorge.
“The Scenic Columbia Gorge Restoration Act is aimed at streamlining the process so that professional forest managers can act quickly to help restore the scenic beauty of the Columbia Gorge. This legislation creates an expedited timeline for reforestation and restoration activities, while ensuring opportunities for public involvement. It would also help the Forest Service take priority action on municipal watersheds, key viewing areas, and around development and transmission lines to meet the scenic goals of the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area’s management plan.”
The bill’s goal would be to clean up the gorge of damaged wood and restore the area as fast as possible. That means, up to 10,000 acres and in areas that are visible from key viewing sites, logging projects in the Gorge can exclude review from the National Environmental Police Act and the Endangered Species Act.
“This is a cynical bill, even for Rep. Walden,” Noah Greenwald, the endangered species director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a release. “We don’t need to throw the environment or public input under the bus to protect the Columbia River Gorge. This totally unnecessary bill is another deceptive attempt to dismantle our core environmental laws.”
Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley said he needs to know more about the proposed bill.
“The salvage logging proposal is going to take extensive efforts to analyze,” Merkley said. “There’s areas especially along roadways and trees that might fall across roads where there are significant efforts that can be done. But we have to make sure we don’t do enormous damage, which has happened with the salvage logging in the past.”
Regardless, conversation groups are not happy with Walden’s proposed bill.
“This bill is just a thinly veiled attempt to allow salvage logging in precious national scenic areas like the Columbia River Gorge under the guise of restoration,” Greenwald said. “Salvage logging is a highly destructive practice that was discredited as a needed or beneficial practice by the scientific community decades ago.”
You can read the full text of the proposed bill below