Climate Change and Gorge Protection
Action is needed now to respond to climate threats
Summer sun rays on Crown Point. (photographer: Cate Hotchkiss)
The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is a natural treasure containing important habitat for many threatened species, including 12 stocks of salmon listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. These species are further endangered by the effects of climate change on their habitat. This is particularly true for salmon habitat, as stream flows decrease and water temperatures increase to the point of being lethal for endangered salmon runs.

Climate resilience, adaptation, and mitigation policies are necessary to fulfill the purposes of the National Scenic Area Act and improve protection of the outstanding resources of the Gorge. There is currently no mention of climate change in the existing management plan. The plan was originally adopted in 1991 and many of its policies are out of date and do not represent the best available science.

For example, stream buffers in the General Management Area were adopted more than 30 years ago and are inadequate for providing protection of critical habitat for endangered salmon. With reduced flows and warming temperatures due to climate change, protecting and enhancing cold water refuge habitat for salmonids is critically important for the survival of endangered Columbia River salmon stocks.
Salmon return to their spawning waters in the Klickitat River. (photographer: Stephen Datnoff)
Pika at Little Beacon Rock. (photographer: Linda Steider)

Tell the Gorge Commission to Address Climate Change

Friends and allies stopped numerous oil train terminals in Oregon and Washington. (Click image above.)

Western pond turtles, listed as endangered in Washington and threatened in Oregon, are hanging on to existence in the Gorge thanks to efforts by the Oregon Zoo, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

As climate change threatens to decrease their habitat, it’s important to ensure that land used and development don’t destroy the remaining habitat for these small, but long-lived reptiles. While we know that western pond turtles can lay their eggs more than 100 meters away from their ponds, pond buffers extend only 23 meters out from the edge of ponds and lakes. These buffers need to be increased to better protect endangered turtles.

The Columbia Gorge has the only low-elevation populations of pika in the lower 48 states. This cute, diminutive relative of the rabbit lives on mossy, shaded scree slopes in the western and central Gorge. As temperatures rise, protection of suitable habitat for the pika is essential to their survival. Yet in the Gorge logging and mining is still allowed in habitat for these unique, low-elevation pika populations. The management plan must be revised to protect pika habitat, especially considering the effects of climate change.

For the past three years, the Columbia River Gorge Commission has repeatedly assured the public that climate policies would be a major focus of its review of the Management Plan, called Gorge 2020, and that all issues would be viewed through a lens of climate change. As periodic review of the management plan comes to a close this year, the Commission must revise the management plan and base all new natural resource protections on the best available science. The Commission needs to back up its promises to and adopt climate policies now.
The Commission should prioritize the following issues in plan review. There should be no delay in adopting these climate adaptation policies:
  1. Adopt a climate action plan to better protect resources. Identify how climate change is expected to impact all resources in the Scenic Area and what measures the Commission will take to address those impacts. This can always be periodically updated with new information after plan review and revision is completed. 
  2. Update fish and wildlife habitat protection based on best available science, such as for salmon. Expand buffers for streams, ponds, and other sensitive wildlife sites. Stream buffers in the General Management Areas of 100 feet for fish-bearing streams and 50 feet for intermittent streams are inadequate.
  3. Prohibit the loss of wetlands. Restore wetlands where possible.
  4. Maximize public safety and environmental rules for any fossil fuel transport through the National Scenic Area. Prohibit coal dust pollution from open-topped coal cars traveling through the Gorge and take enforcement action against polluters and violators. 
  5. Stop urban expansion. Promote urban planning and encourage growth to occur in existing urban area boundaries, as required by the National Scenic Area Act.
  6. Prohibit conversions of forest land to agricultural land.
  7. Adopt energy efficiency standards for new dwellings.
  8. Limit new dwellings within forest zones to reduce the risks of wildfires and to protect human lives.
  9. Protect and promote the proliferation of native plants, particularly Native American first foods.
  10. Stop urban expansion and require urban growth to occur within the boundaries of the 13 existing urban areas in the Gorge.
After plan review, the Commission should prioritize the development of a “Transfer of Development Rights” program to avoid the climate impacts of dispersed residential development on resource lands and encourage growth to occur in existing urban areas, as required by the purposes of the National Scenic Area Act.


Michael Lang, conservation director | 971-634-2030 |