Cantwell pushes White Salmon protection

Friday, August 8, 2003
By KATHIE DURBIN, Columbian staff writer

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., will introduce a bill next month to include the upper White Salmon River in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

Washington's junior senator announced Thursday in Vancouver that she plans to submit a Senate version of the House bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, in June. She said she expects its passage to take several years.

Both bills would protect the river from its headwaters on the flank of Mount Adams to the boundary of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest north of Trout Lake, a total of 13.4 miles, as well as 6.6 miles of a tributary, Cascade Creek. The river in that upper reach flows entirely through national forest land and the uppermost section is within the Mount Adams Wilderness.

The Forest Service found the upper White Salmon eligible for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic Rivers System based on its free-flowing condition and its scenic, hydrologic, geologic and wildlife values.

"By designating it part of the Wild and Scenic Rivers System, we can permanently protect this special river as a premier recreational destination, a Southwest Washington economic resource and an important wildlife and salmon habitat," Cantwell said.

An eight-mile river canyon between Gilmer Creek and Northwestern Lake won federal protection in 1986 when Congress passed the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act. Kayakers and white-water rafters come from all over the world to test themselves against its nonstop Class III and Class IV rapids.

An 18-mile stretch between the upper and lower reaches flows through private land managed for timber and agriculture and is not included in either bill.

Cantwell invited river guides, innkeepers and others who make their living from tourism and outdoor recreation to speak briefly after her announcement at Gifford Pinchot headquarters.

Dean Hostetter, who runs a bed and breakfast inn in Trout Lake, said he believes wild and scenic designation for the upper White Salmon could turn the woodsy Klickitat County community into a tourist destination and increase his own business by up to 20 percent.

The dismantling of Condit Dam, scheduled for 2006, should add to the area's appeal by removing a barrier that blocks salmon from the upper White Salmon and allowing the reestablishment of a sport fishery, he said. "People ask, 'Where can you go fishing?' We have to send them 35 miles away to the Klickitat River."

Joanie Thomson, a former restaurant owner who lives above Condit Dam, serves as director for a downtown Hood River, Ore., business association. She said gorge businesses "rely on the recreational dollars spent in our communities," and predicted that wild and scenic status for the upper river will help generate new dollars for the entire region.

Protecting the upper river may not pay economic dividends immediately but will in the long run, said Mark Zoller, president of a whitewater rafting guide service that operates on the lower White Salmon. "It's like putting something in the bank for the future," he said.

The national river protection organizations American Rivers and Trout Unlimited hailed Cantwell's announcement.

"The drive to protect the White Salmon River started locally with a groundswell of citizen support," said Rob Masonis of American Rivers. "It's proof that a group of dedicated people can make a difference."


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