GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Conservation groups hoping to expand the wilderness area along Oregon's most popular whitewater run announced Monday that a major timber industry group won't oppose the effort to protect the land from logging and mining.
Oregon Wild and other groups hope to win wilderness protection for 58,000 acres of federal land, primarily along the upper 24 miles of the wild section of the Rogue River. They want to prevent logging and mining along tributaries where salmon spawn.
"The irony is that everyone already thought it was wilderness," Steve Pedery, conservation director for Oregon Wild, said Monday. "For the public thinking of rafting the Rogue, when they put in at Grave Creek, they think they're in wilderness. The reality is, until they get down to Mule Creek, there is just this ribbon of land protecting the River."
Wilderness is the most stringent level of protection for federal lands. It typically prohibits logging, motorized travel and new mining claims, while allowing hunting and fishing.
Noting they had supported expansion of wilderness areas on Mount Hood, Tom Partin of American Forest Resource Council said they are not always "the black hat guys," particularly when they are brought into negotiations before a bill goes to Congress.
"Let's face it," Partin said. "The area you view from the Rogue River is not going to be (logged). A lot of it is too rugged and wild. There is not a lot of timber value that we would be giving up if it went into wilderness values."
Partin added that they particularly did not want to see a bill introduced last year to protect 143 miles of Rogue tributaries as wild and scenic, because it doubled the typical quarter-mile no-logging buffers on both sides of the streams and would have established a precedent for future bills.
"The proposal they came up with made a lot of sense to us," he said.
The Rogue River was one of the first rivers in the nation protected by the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. In 1978, Congress created the Wild Rogue Wilderness, running from Marial, the approximate halfway point down the 40-mile wild section of the river, to near the takeout at Foster Bar.
The expansion would run from Marial upstream to Grave Creek, where most rafters put on the river, and beyond a few miles nearly to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Rand Visitor Center, where rafters pick up permits to run the river.
Pedery said the bill to protect Rogue tributaries has gotten little traction in Congress, and they hoped to see the Wild Rogue Wilderness proposal included in a national wilderness omnibus bill later this fall.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.