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Badlands a step closer to Wilderness designation

Badlands designation a step closer
The Bulletin
By Kate Ramsayer
May 28, 2008

Backed by gnarled junipers and cloudy skies, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced Tuesday morning that he would be introducing legislation next week that would make the Badlands east of Bend a federally designated wilderness area.

“There may be a little bit of gray in the skies, but this is going to be a good day for the Badlands,” Wyden said, addressing more than 100 wilderness supporters at the Badlands Rock trailhead. “After years of increasing the grass-roots interest and excitement about protecting this beautiful place, we’re ready for action.”

Designating the 30,000 acres as wilderness would send a signal about the many recreational opportunities in Bend, with mountains on one side and the desert on the other, he said.

“This legislation right now is going to tell the world that Central Oregon is a place that has extraordinary recreation,” he said.

And that adds to the quality of life in the area, Wyden said, which also can act as an economic driver and attract employers and employees.

There’s a large amount of community support for wilderness designation, said Brent Fenty, executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association, which has been advocating for a Badlands wilderness area.

“It’s fantastic news; it’s what folks have been waiting for for two decades now,” Fenty said.

But the proposal still has to be passed by Congress, he said, adding that people should still continue to voice their support to legislators. He also noted even if the Badlands becomes a wilderness area, it would still be open to people in wheelchairs.

Alice Elshoff, of Bend, who said she began lobbying for Badlands protection in 1980, was at the announcement Tuesday.

“It’s just so wonderful,” she said. “It’s insurance that the place will be protected.”

Wilderness is a story about people, Wyden said, citing ranchers and Badlands supporters and Bureau of Land Management staff, who have worked to protect it.

Wyden said he’s introducing the wilderness bill next week because of the grass-roots support that has been building over the years. Although the Deschutes County Commission decided several years ago not to take an official position on the issue, Wyden said he’ll be reaching out to the commissioners and others in the community with concerns about establishing a wilderness area.

“We’ll be working with everyone to try to get this passed,” he said.

But federal legislation is needed to move beyond just talking about principles and to jump-start the process, Wyden said.

Still, Deschutes County commissioners Mike Daly and Dennis Luke both said they thought Wyden should hold public hearings on the issue.

“I know there’s strong feelings on both sides of the issues, and I think before they move forward they should hold a public hearing,” Daly said.

The Badlands is currently protected as a wilderness study area, Luke said, and there are issues like law enforcement and access that need to be discussed.

Wyden said he would be working with other Oregon lawmakers on the issue. A spokeswoman for the office of U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., said he was looking at the bill and waiting for feedback from local groups.

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, said that he would be looking at details of the proposal. “I look forward to working with Senator Wyden to ensure that any legislation designating wilderness in the Badlands does so in a way that does not shut down unique mountain bike trails nor prevents sled dog training that occurs there now,” he said.






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