When I moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1980, I was enthralled with the abundance of public land and how it seemed like a place of refuge for all. Fast forward over 40 years, and my love of public lands has not diminished, but my naiveté, and frankly privilege, of thinking our public lands are welcoming to all is gone.
Hate and bias crimes against people of color in parks and on trails is all too common. This is not new, but it is worsening. Last year, for example, a black family was enjoying a Fourth of July picnic in Lincoln City when they were surrounded by a gang of white men, hurling racial slurs and Nazi salutes at them. And Oregon Public Broadcasting recently reported that hate crimes and bias incidents have spiked over 350% in Oregon last year, in part because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Oregon legislature, fortunately, is working to address this issue on our treasured state lands.
Earlier this month, the Oregon State Senate Energy and Environment Committee amended and approved Senate Bill 289. The bill would protect the public by prohibiting persons convicted of hate or bias crimes on state lands from using those lands and waters for a period of at least six months but not longer than five years. It would also revoke licenses for recreation uses and prohibit the issuance of licenses for a period of five years. This bill is based on recommendations from the Governor’s Racial Justice Council. Friends is now working, in partnership with allies in the conservation community, to support the bill's passage.
The time is long overdue for Oregon public lands to be safe for all. Oregonians visiting the Columbia Gorge, Oregon Coast or any lands held for the benefit of the public shouldn't have to fear that they and their loved ones might be harassed or attacked due to their skin color, gender identity, or ethnic background.
I am proud of being able to call myself an Oregonian for my entire adult life. I worked in government to support conservation as well as the energy needs of our region. I joined the board of Friends of the Columbia Gorge to help protect a place we all treasure. But to truly love a place, we must not turn away from the real injustices that occur all too often on lands belonging to all of us.
Protecting and enhancing the Columbia Gorge is the core of what Friends of the Columbia Gorge is all about, but if the Gorge is not safe for all, then the protection of the Gorge itself is very much incomplete.
Greg Delwiche chairs the board of directors for Friends of the Columbia Gorge and formerly served as deputy administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration. Greg's entire professional career has been dedicated to the Columbia River, and years of recreational pursuits have also furthered his strong personal connection to the Columbia Gorge—a passion for conservation and the outdoors shared with his wife and two adult daughters (all pictured right, at Tom McCall Preserve on a 2020 Thanksgiving weekend outing).
Send a Letter in Support to the Oregon State Legislature
To find your elected representatives in Salem, visit the Oregon Legilsature's FInd Your Representative website at: https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/findyourlegislator/leg-districts.html
Just enter your address or click on the map, then choose from the Senate, House, or Congress tab to find your elected officials.