Testifying before a Senate subcommittee in Washington, D.C. on a bill that would increase protection of the lower Rogue River, Grants Pass native Dave Strahan said the watershed enriches lives and livelihoods.
"The Rogue and its watersheds provided my family and me countless hours of outdoor recreation and enjoyment — family camping, fishing, hunting and boating was what we did when I was growing up," he testified Thursday morning before the subcommittee on public lands and forest chaired by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
"When I die, I hope to leave a Rogue River that my kids, my grandkids and their peers can continue to build memories around for generations to come," said Strahan, a 1972 graduate of Grants Pass High School who now sells recreational equipment.
Strahan was testifying in support of the Rogue Wilderness Area Expansion Act of 2011, submitted late last year by Wyden and fellow U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. The bill would expand the existing wilderness area by some 60,000 acres, place 93 miles of the river's tributaries under wild and scenic protection and withdraw some 50 miles of tributaries from mining activity.
But on the same day that Strahan testified, the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry coalition based in Portland, announced its opposition to the Senate bill. In 2010, the coalition had dropped its opposition to additional wilderness designation in the area following negotiations between it and environmental groups.
On Thursday, however, council President Tom Partin said the group supports a bill in the House which also would set aside the additional wilderness and provide "real certainty for local governments and industries" dependent on timber dollars. That bill has been introduced by Oregon representatives Greg Walden, a Republican, and Democrats Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader.
"We cannot support additional restrictions on federal forests in Western Oregon unless they are part of a broader resolution to the real threats facing our rural communities," Partin said in a prepared statement.
"The time for partial solutions that meet the needs of single-interest groups is past," he added. "We need a comprehensive solution that considers both the economic and environmental contributions we deserve from our federal forests."
Both bills would officially create a wilderness out of the nearly 60,000-acre Zane Grey tract, a largely roadless area immediately upstream from the 35,800-acre Wild Rogue Wilderness in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. The Zane Grey area, named for the famous writer who fished the Lower Rogue from World War I into the early 1930s, is on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District.
The Rogue River was one of the first rivers in the nation protected by the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. A decade later, Congress created the Wild Rogue Wilderness.
During Thursday's hearing, Mike Pool, the BLM's deputy director, said the agency supports the bill introduced by Wyden and Merkley.
The area where protections would be expanded is the natural habitat for bald eagles, elk, bear, sturgeon, salmon and steelhead, Wyden told the committee.
"The Rogue River is part of Southern Oregon's recreational tradition attracting thousands of hikers, rafters and outdoor enthusiasts each year and pumping millions into the local economy," he said. "Preserving this land will protect the ecosystem for generations and ensure that the recreational economy in this area is allowed to thrive as well."
Strahan, who is a regional salesman for outdoor recreational equipment, agreed. He was representing 110 Oregon businesses as well as the Northwest Sports Fishing Association of some 300 outdoor businesses in the region.
A 2009 economic study estimated that economic benefits generated from fishing, hiking and white-water rafting on the Rogue exceeded more than $18.1 million each year, he said.
"The Rogue has long been an international draw for tourists and has also provided sanctuary for notable celebrities over the years," he said, noting that list includes former heavyweight champion George Foreman and writer Grey.
" 'The happiest lot of any angler would be to live somewhere along the banks of the Rogue River, the most beautiful stream in Oregon,' " Strahan said, quoting Grey.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or email him at email@example.com.