Sen. Ron Wyden should get kudos for sponsoring a virtual town hall session in August regarding his River Democracy Act, and the esteemed lawmaker did a good job of answering questions and trying to alleviate fears. But his legislation still carries more questions than answers.
The River Democracy Act will add more than 4,000 miles of wild and scenic rivers across the state, but the idea sparked some opposition from rural county elected officials and concerns it will impact grazing, potential timber harvests and affect recreational access.
For the most part, the bill seems to be a good-faith attempt in conservation and carries with it several interesting and valid protections.
Yet, there is a bit of an unease with a piece of legislation that carves out so much acreage based on what is essentially a crowd-sourcing attempt where 15,000 Oregonians delivered their personal choices for what should be protected under the proposed legislation.
Wyden has done a good job of answering questions and has assured the public the bill will have no impact on private land or existing property, grazing or water rights.
Wyden has stated the bill will apply only to federal lands. The bill also contains provisions that will require the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to review wildfire risks in wild and scenic river corridors. Each agency then has up to six years to develop a mitigation plan. The bill also would create a $30 million fund to restore riparian areas that are scorched by wildfires.
Both are excellent measures that are, in fact, long overdue. And yet, Wyden’s ambitious plan leaves a sense of disquiet.
For one, there doesn’t seem to be as much interaction with local officials on the broad strokes of the blueprint as one would expect. Some county commissioners in some portions of Eastern Oregon have said they were never consulted about the bill, a piece of legislation that will impact their areas of responsibility.
Secondly, the bills such as these have a bad habit of creating unintended consequences. What appears right and proper now, may evolve into a problem down the road. Not for the senator, nor for environmentalists who want the legislation, but for people who live in the areas where the bill will make its biggest impact.
We laude Wyden for his effort, and we want to get behind this bill. But to do so the sense of unease needs to be quelled.