Questions sent to Wyden regarding the River Democracy Act

By on Tuesday, August 31st, 2021 in Featured Stories Northeastern Oregon News

EASTERN OREGON – (Information provided by Union County Commissioner Paul Anderes)

A letter sent to Senator Ron Wyden from County Officials regarding the River Democracy Act. 

Dear Senator Wyden,

You have received extensive comments, concerns, and questions from county governments, rural residents, and other stakeholders regarding the River Democracy Act (S.192). S. 192 is massive in scope, placing additional management restrictions on 4,700 miles of Oregon rivers, streams, gulches, and draws through the national Wild and Scenic River Act along with 3 million acres of federal lands within the associated ½-mile buffers.  We appreciate your desire to respond to these questions and concerns, including through the August 31, 2021 “People’s Town Hall” that your office has scheduled for S. 192.

As you know, federal land management agencies must navigate an unending and often conflicting maze of federal laws, regulations, and litigation as they seek to implement land management activities and treat millions of at-risk acres across Oregon.  Unfortunately, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are falling far behind the pace needed to get ahead of the growing crisis and we are deeply concerned about any legislation that would compound the challenges they face.

We respectfully submit the following questions ahead of the “People’s Town Hall’:    

Q1. The purported intent of S.192 is to protect property rights, water rights, existing permits and rights of way on federal lands.  However, Section 4 of the River Democracy Act (“Resolution of Conflict”) mandates that when there is a conflict between other laws and this Act, the more restrictive law shall control.  Given the restrictions of Section 12 of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act related to “any lands which include, border upon, or are adjacent to” any designated river, what amendments are necessary to ensure that the rights you seek to protect will indeed be protected?  

Q2.   You have acknowledged that a significant portion of the three million acres of federal land designated under S. 192 is overstocked and at risk of catastrophic wildfire that threatens watersheds, wildlife, and local communities. You have also suggested that S. 192 would direct federal land management agencies to treat these lands to reduce overstocking and make them more resilient to wildfire, insects, and drought. However, Section (5)(a)(6) of S. 192 only directs the agencies to assess areas having a high probable risk of high intensity wildfires and then merely consider “the appropriate use of prescribed fire to meet long-term resource management objectives.” Please provide a specific reference to where S. 192 directs federal land management agencies to treat these at-risk acres utilizing all legal land management tools, including mechanical thinning and grazing.  

Q3. There is significant debate about whether many of the rivers, streams, draws, and gulches proposed for designation under S. 192 meet the intent of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to preserve certain rivers with “outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition.”  Why doesn’t S. 192 utilize Section (5) of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to direct expert, career staff at the federal land management agencies to study and analyze these segments to determine if they are indeed appropriate?  This would increase public participation, transparency, and could be tied to the Forest Service’s upcoming forest plan revision process.

Q4. Maintaining public access is a serious challenge facing land management agencies, particularly following wildfires, ice storms, and other catastrophic events that often require the removal of dead and dying trees that can pose a threat to firefighters, emergency services, and the public.  Unfortunately, many Wild and Scenic river management plans include specific prohibitions on any vegetation management, including post-fire salvage of dead and dying trees.  Why doesn’t S. 192 specifically direct that public access and safety be maintained through recovery and restoration activities following a catastrophic event?

We look forward to hearing more from you and appreciate your commitment to ensuring that these and other concerns are addressed before Congress takes further action on S. 192.

Signed by:  

Paul Anderes–Union County Commissioner

Susan Roberts--Wallowa County Commissioner

Dan Joyce Malheur County Judge

Jerry BrummerCrook County Commissioner

Kristen Shelman–Harney County Commissioner                                               

Sam PalmerGrant County Commissioner

Dan Dorran–Umatilla County Commissioner

Mark AlbertsonLake County Commissioner

Kelly SimmelinkJefferson County Commissioner

Joe DabulskisSherman County Judge

Pat ShannonGilliam County Commissioner

Tony DeBoneDeschutes County Commissioner

Mark BennettBaker County Commissioner 

N. Lynn MorleyWheeler County Judge