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Your Voice is the Greatest Protector of the Gorge

Your Voice is the Greatest Protector of the Gorge
Wildflowers bloom in a view from the East Gorge with Mt Hood in the background. Photo: Debbie Asakawa
By Ryan Rittenhouse
Conservation Organizer
September 5, 2020

I started working for Friends of the Columbia Gorge in 2013, but I first saw the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in 2012 when I was on a work trip for a previous job. I was following the transport routes that an increasing number of coal trains took to newly proposed terminals up and down the Washington and Oregon coasts. A growing coalition of environmental groups, which included Friends, had been fighting the transport of coal through the region, and the bottleneck of all those shipments was right through the Gorge.

Growing up in Ohio, I had never even heard of the Gorge before, so my sense of awe and wonder as we drove east into the Scenic Area was compounded by the surprise of discovery. How had I never heard of this place before, and how was such an incredible, natural treasure so well preserved so close to one of the largest metropolitan areas in the Northwest?

The Management Plan: A guide for Gorge protection

The answer, of course, is the National Scenic Area Act (which established the Columbia River Gorge Commission) and Friends, which has fought tirelessly for almost 40 years to first pass that act and then continue to hold the Gorge Commission accountable and safeguard the Scenic Area in countless other ways.

A vital part of that protection is what the Gorge Commission calls its Management Plan. As a guiding document that should steer the Commission in their implementation of the National Scenic Area Act, it’s supposed to be updated regularly. The end of the almost four-year process of updating the plan is at hand and a vote on the draft revisions will be held at the Commission’s meeting this Tuesday, Sept. 8, after an opportunity for the public to comment.

Though not perfect, the revisions will bring crucial updates and needed changes to the Management Plan. A few revisions already listed include: policy planning on diversity, equity, and inclusion; limits on urban area boundary expansions (20 acres or 1% of total land area, with cumulative revisions not to exceed 50 acres or 2%); a climate change chapter and guidance for developing a Climate Action Plan; increased protections for habitat and wildlife such as increasing buffers around cold water refuge streams for salmon to 200 feet; and limits on residential development on forest lands and farmland to reduce fire risk, prevent urban sprawl, and keep residential development focused on the urban areas.

Be a witness and be heard

I hope that everyone reading this will take the time to send an online comment to the Commission by clicking this link, and attend the virtual online Gorge Commission meeting next Tuesday, Sept. 8 at 9:00 a.m. (PDT). You can register for the meeting here. Public comment should begin around 10:15 a.m. You don’t need to speak for long, just let the commission know that as a member of the public and a lover of the National Scenic Area, you want them to pass the strongest revisions possible for the future protection of the Gorge.

Friends dedicates all our time and effort to protecting and promoting responsible stewardship of the Gorge, but we are only as powerful as our members and supporters. Your voice is our most powerful asset. Let yourself be heard on one of the most important decisions that will affect Gorge protection for decades to come.