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Oregon’s Molalla River – Wild and Scenic?

December 28, 2010

Last year, Congress passed an expansive public lands omnibus bill that resulted in approximately two million acres of public lands in the U.S. being declared wilderness and over 1,000 miles of river being designated as wild and scenic.  Congress has another public lands omnibus bill in motion, which may be considered before the close of the 111th Congress on January 3, 2011.  S. 303 combines several pieces of legislation, most of which the House of Representatives has already passed.  Among the provisions is an amendment which would designate segments of the Molalla River in Oregon as Wild and Scenic. 

The proposed designation would include approximately 21 miles of the Molalla River as a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System on the basis of the river’s recreational attributes.  Designated areas include a 15.1 mile stretch of the Molalla River starting south of the Table Rock Wilderness and a 6.2 mile stretch of the Table Rock Fork of the Molalla River.  The Bureau of Land Management manages the majority of the land adjacent to these river segments, including some land designated as wilderness.  The BLM would have a year from passage of the legislation to determine the area’s boundaries.  Until boundaries are designated, all land within one-quarter mile from the ordinary high water mark on each side of the river is included in the protected area.    

If the legislation passes, the designated Molalla segments would be managed based on the river’s recreational values.  A recreational designation allows most current activities on the BLM lands to continue so long as there is no substantial adverse effect on the river and its immediate environment.  In other words, the BLM could impose restrictions if it determines it is necessary to protect the river’s recreational attributes.  For example, timber harvesting is allowed under standard restrictions to avoid adverse effects on the river and the recreational designations allow livestock grazing to continue consistent with current practices.  Existing roads paralleling the river could still be maintained; bridges, access points, new roads, trails and visitor areas would be allowed pursuant to certain construction standards.  Campgrounds, picnic areas, and other recreation-related infrastructure would also be permissible.  Recreation, including hiking, fishing, hunting and boating, is encouraged so long as it is consistent with any existing restrictions and with the protection of the river environment.  Public use and access may be regulated and/or distributed if it is necessary to protect and enhance the river’s recreational values. 

Although the limitations of a recreational designation are less compared to those for a wild or scenic designation, there is the potential that lands could be limited in use for many resource uses.  Sponsors of the original bill before the House, have stated that any limitations would be far outweighed by the tourism-related income to the community resulting from a designation. 

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