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Proposed bill expands Wild Rogue Wilderness

A bill to increase wilderness protection of the lower section of the Rogue River by some 58,000 acres has been introduced into Congress.

Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., House Resolution 3436 introduced Wednesday would expand the 35,800-acre Wild Rogue Wilderness Area while making additional wild and scenic river designations along the river corridor and providing additional protections for river's tributaries.

It was co-sponsored by Oregon Democratic Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Kurt Schrader.

The roadless area is immediately upstream from the Wild Rogue Wilderness in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. The Zane Grey roadless area, located on land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District, is the largest proposed BLM wilderness area in southwestern Oregon.

A spokeswoman for DeFazio's office in Washington, D.C., confirmed the legislation Friday evening that the bill had been introduced but did not have specific details.

The bill, which has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, would expand the existing wilderness to include the 58,000-acre so-called Zane Grey roadless area, according to Shane Jimerfield, Siskiyou Wild Rivers campaign director for Ashland-based Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center.

"The wild and scenic Rogue River is the heart of Southern Oregon and this legislation will forever protect this place for future generations," he said in a prepared statement.

The area had been proposed for wilderness expansion in the past by members of the Oregon delegation but did not become law.

However, in the spring of 2010, following months of negotiations with conservation activists, the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry coalition based in Portland, dropped its opposition to wilderness designation for the Zane Grey roadless tract.

Under the compromise, the proposal was reduced some 13,000 acres from an earlier bill while cutting the Wild & Scenic Rivers protection from 143 miles of tributary streams to 93 miles and reducing stream buffers.

The designation would help protect the valuable salmon and steelhead fishery in the watershed, Jimerfield said.

He noted a recent economic study found more than $30 million annually flowed into the region as a result of the river's wild and scenic section.

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.