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Time to get public lands protections over the finish line

Last week we lost Mary Gautreaux, Sen. Ron Wyden’s deputy state director, who cared deeply for Oregon’s public lands and rivers. Few people knew Oregon’s public lands — and how to get things done for them — like Mary.

Behind the scenes, she won many battles, but there were a few that didn’t quite get over the finish line.

A few years ago, I was lucky to float the Owyhee River with her and see her absolute love of the Oregon desert and specifically the Owyhee Canyonlands. She was an important voice for the Owyhee River and I hope we continue working to find the right way to protect it.

Protecting the Owyhee will require collaborative discussions between conservationists, recreationists and ranchers that balance historic use and forward-thinking protection to preserve these canyons for future generations. Mary’s last few months were spent surrounded by maps of the Owyhee Canyonlands in the hopes that she could figure out the right way to protect this place she loved.

Mary also loved the Rogue River and its many tributaries, including the Illinois River. She was instrumental in securing a 20-year temporary mineral withdrawal for Rough and Ready Creek, Baldface Creek, Hunter Creek, and Pistol River. Rough and Ready Creek is in the headwaters of the Illinois River and Baldface Creek is in the headwaters of the Smith River. Only a handful of rivers in the world have the water quality, fish habitat, scenery, botany, wilderness character, and botany like the Illinois and Smith Rivers.

As a whitewater paddler I have explored much of the Illinois and Smith River watersheds including Baldface Creek and Rough and Ready Creek and can attest that they are uniquely special. I am forever grateful to Mary for her hard work to temporarily protect them from large-scale mining and I hope we keep working toward permanent protection.

Sens. Wyden and Jeff Merkley recently introduced the Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act, which offers permanent protection to these creeks and other landscapes. This act would increase the size of the Wild Rogue Wilderness, create the Rogue and Molalla recreation areas, and permanently protect Baldface Creek and Rough and Ready Creek in the South Kalmiopsis from large-scale mining.

I am deeply saddened by the loss of Mary Gautreaux and feel that the best way to honor her is to continue fighting for these places she loved and fought for. We need to seek support for the Owyhee River and the Oregon Recreation Act from Oregon Reps. Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader. If you care about these places, now is the time to let them know.

These rivers and lands are important not just to me and my outfitting business but to anyone who ever marveled at nature, to all of us who revel in the pure joy of the wilderness, to everyone who wants to know that the outdoors is still out there, waiting for them. Thanks to Mary Gautreaux, it is.

Zachary Collier is the owner of Northwest Rafting Company (https://www.nwrafting.com), a river outfitter on the Rogue, Owyhee, Chetco, Illinois, and Middle Fork of the Salmon rivers.

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