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Protecting the North Umpqua

STEAMBOAT — A campaign to protect nearly 100,000 acres of the North Umpqua River Basin for wild steelhead and name it after one of the fish's most ardent and iconic defenders is back in the forefront of Congress.

A bill that would create the Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Special Management Area on federal land east of Roseburg is heading back to the U.S. Senate, where it died last summer when it didn't get considered before Congress adjourned.

The bill passed Thursday out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is headed for the full Senate for debate.

The bill bears the name of Frank Moore, a storied North Umpqua fly-fisher and nationally recognized conservationist whose wild steelhead advocacy in the basin dates back to the early 1950s and continues today. The only difference from last year's bill is that the name of Moore's wife, Jeanne, was added to it, said Sam Offerdahl, spokeswoman for Sen. Jeff Merkley, who co-sponsored the bill with his fellow Oregon Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden.

The same bill is sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Eugene.

The proposed management area includes Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands home to 99,653 acres of wild steelhead spawning habitat and the source of some of the best cold and clean water in the basin, advocates say.

The legislation seeks to have the lands managed to enhance flora, fauna and ecology, especially preserving the area as a cold-water refuge for wild steelhead. It encompasses the Steamboat Creek watershed, a sub-basin of the North Umpqua that is considered one of the best wild steelhead spawning and rearing habitats in Western Oregon.

The act calls for no new roads, prioritizes the decommissioning of roads, and bans future mining and geothermal exploration but does not prohibit current mining there. The draft bill does not address commercial logging but requires steps be taken to improve riparian habitats for better water quality.

The bill has garnered significant support among Western conservation and sporting groups such as the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, which has regularly testified in support of the bill.

"The habitat that it would permanently conserve is prized by sportsmen in Oregon and all over the country," BHA spokeswoman Katie McKalip said. "It's really impossible to put a price tag on the value of those wild fisheries and big-game habitats."  

The protections were first proposed in a bill the two Oregon senators sponsored in May 2015.

Moore, who served a stint on the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, first championed protection for Steamboat Creek and its tributaries during commercial logging operations in the early 1950s.

The founder of Steamboat Inn, he is a former National Wildlife Federation Conservationist of the Year, earned the Wild Steelhead Coalition Conservation Award, and in 2010 was inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.

Moore also fought in the invasion of Normandy, and a 2014 documentary followed his return to France to fish some of the streams he crossed as a soldier. He was awarded the Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor for bravery.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtfribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

A steelhead leaps from a pool in Steamboat Creek, part of the North Umpqua Basin that would be protected under a bill named after famed fly-fisherman and conservationist Frank Moore. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]