Wednesday, July 24, 2002
By KATHIE DURBIN, Columbian staff writer

Washington State - U.S. Rep. Brian Baird has introduced legislation to include 20 miles of the upper White Salmon River in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

    The section proposed for protection, from the river's headwaters on the flank of Mount Adams to the southern boundary of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, flows entirely through national forest land. It includes Cascade Creek, a tributary of the White Salmon.

    An eight-mile gorge of the White Salmon, between Gilmer Creek and Northwestern Lake, won federal protection in 1986 when Congress passed the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act.

    Under Baird's bill, introduced Monday, 1.6 miles of the White Salmon River and 5.1 miles of Cascade Creek flowing through the Mount Adams Wilderness would be designated "wild," the most protected status. An additional 11.8 miles of the White Salmon and 1.5 miles of Cascade Creek downstream from the wilderness boundary would be classified as "scenic," a less protective designation.

    "The White Salmon River is known for its exhilarating whitewater rapids, stunning scenery, and abundant fish and wildlife," Baird said in a statement. "Designation will preserve these characteristics and the rural lifestyle around it, while at the same time enhancing tourism-based economic opportunities."

    The Forest Service already is managing this section of the river to preserve its wild and scenic features, but only Congress can confer permanent protection.

    Dams are prohibited on wild and scenic rivers, and development, including road building, is restricted along their banks.

    Connie Kelleher of the environmental group American Rivers praised Baird's bill, noting that congressional action would bring lasting protection to the 20-mile stretch.

    "It's very important, because right now, even though the Forest Service is treating this stretch as though it were a wild and scenic river, that's not going to last forever," she said.

    Kelleher said American Rivers approached Baird last January about introducing the legislation. Under congressional redistricting, the White Salmon River, now in Baird's district, will become part of the 4th Congressional District, presently represented by Rep. Richard "Doc" Hastings, R-Yakima, next year.

    But Dennis White, founder of the group Friends of White Salmon, said Baird's bill was "a cop-out" because it failed to protect an 18-mile stretch of the river between the national forest boundary and Condit Dam, which forms Northwestern Lake. That section flows through private lands managed for timber and agriculture.

    White's group was founded in 1976 to fight plans by Klickitat County Public Utility District 1 to build eight dams and diversions on the upper White Salmon, including a large earth-filled dam above Trout Lake. Those dams never were built.

    Another of the group's goals was to protect the White Salmon's entire reach under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. White said that goal was within reach in the early 1990s after a task force including Columbia River tribes, federal and state agencies, Klickitat County and private landowners reached agreement on a plan to protect the river from its headwaters to Condit Dam. But the plan never won approval from Congress.

    It's the middle section that most needs protecting, White said, but that is the section left out of Baird's bill.

    "The middle stretch is the most threatened with logging, residential, commercial and energy development, as it largely courses through private land," he said.

    If Baird's bill becomes law, it's unlikely the middle stretch ever will be reconsidered for designation, White said.

    Baird disputed that assertion.

    His bill "does not preclude the outcome one way or the other for designation of the rest of the river" at some future date, Baird said. And his legislation has the advantage that it is supported by private landowners, he added.

    "To say that there was a consensus then, I wasn't in office then," Baird said. "I can tell you there is not a consensus now on the (river's) lower end."


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]