Twilight in the Gorge, viewed from Rowena Crest on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. The town of Lyle, WA, one of the Gorge's 13 designated Urban Areas, is visible at left. (photographer: Warren Morgan)
The Columbia River Gorge is a natural scenic treasure and is protected as a federally designated National Scenic Area. In 2017, the Columbia River Gorge Commission and the U.S. Forest Service are beginning to review Gorge protection plans to see if they need to be revised. They want to hear from you!
BackgroundWhen enacted in 1986, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act required the development of a Management Plan that ensures the protection and enhancement of scenic, natural, cultural and recreation resources. The Management Plan also must protect agricultural lands, forest lands and open spaces. The original Management Plan was adopted in 1991 and has been reviewed only once in 25 years, although the law requires it to be reviewed at least once every ten years. Most of the resource protection provisions of the plan are based on inventories, science, and policy that is more than 25 years old.
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Many of the issues raised by the public during the last review of the plan have not been addressed, yet development on sensitive lands within the National Scenic Area continues to march forward under guidelines developed more than 25 years ago. In 2004, some regulations were weakened to allow more logging on sensitive lands in the Gorge, even on National Forest lands in Special Management Areas. New mining operations are still allowed in the Scenic Area. The Gorge’s outstanding geologic features receive no special protection and are exposed to open pit mining. Native plant communities, including Native American first foods, receive no protection despite tribal treaty rights. Land divisions take place without analysis of cumulative effects to scenic, natural, cultural, and recreation resources.
Friends' Recommendations on the Scope of Gorge Management Plan ReviewPlan Review Talking Points (PDF)
The Columbia River Gorge is a natural scenic treasure and is protected as a federally designated National Scenic Area. It is also home to 13 communities, or urban areas, where economic development is intended to occur. As of March 8, 2017, the Columbia River Gorge Commission and U.S. Forest Service have closed the scoping period of the Management Plan review. After reviewing all the comments received during the scoping period, the agencies will identify which issues should be addressed in the ambitious revision process in 2017-18. Workshops will be held to discuss progress with a target date of June 2019 to complete the Plan Revision.
Plan review will continue for the next few years; Friends will continue to focus on the following priorities we highlighted during the scoping review process:
- Solid foundations for review: Base plan review on the best available science and sound resource protection policies. Updating the resource inventories, completing a "build-out" of development allowed within the scenic area and reliance on the "Vital Signs Indicators" program will help ensure that plan review is data driven.
- Cumulative effects: Amend the definition of "cumulative effect" to require analysis of past, present and reasonably foreseeable actions.
- Climate change: Require analysis of climate change impacts for major development projects.
- Fossil-fuel transport: Adopt guidelines addressing fossil fuel transport through the National Scenic Area, including oil and coal trains. For example, require analysis of worst-case oil spills from oil train derailments and prohibit coal pollution from open-topped coal cars.
- Rail expansion: Improve regulations on rail expansion to better ensure protection of communities and scenic, natural, cultural and recreation resources.
- Mining: Prohibit new mining, including new open pit quarries within the scenic area.
- Logging: Prohibit logging on National Forest lands in the scenic area.
- Scenic resources: Limit "trophy homes" on scenic landscapes. Determine if scenic landscapes are approaching the tipping point for development and, if so, require additional scenic resource protection measures.
- Natural resources: Expand protective buffers for fish, wildlife and rare plants to better reflect the best available science. Require protection for native plant communities. Adopt standards to protect outstanding geologic features, such as the Bonneville Slide area that created the "Bridge of the Gods." Assess the impacts of climate change on protected species and habitat.
- Cultural resources: Until a thorough survey of cultural resources is completed in the Gorge, require cultural resource reconnaissance surveys prior to the approval of land divisions, significant ground disturbing activities, and development. Support tribal efforts to protect Native American “first foods.”
- Recreation resources: Support policies for trail systems linking recreation sites, viewpoints and Gorge communities. Promote more dispersed recreation by supporting new recreation sites and discouraging overuse of existing sites. Support sustainable recreation through alternative transportation options. Improve river access but avoid adverse impacts to sensitive resources and treaty rights.
- Protect more lands: Expand open space designations to protect sensitive areas and newly acquired public lands.
- Protect high value farm land: For example, update standards for agricultural dwellings to better protect farm land from residential sprawl. Make the standards for new farm dwellings at least as strong as Oregon's, which require proof of at least $80,000 in gross annual farm income.
- Prevent urban sprawl: Strengthen protections that control expansion of Urban Area Boundaries into the management areas of the scenic area. The Scenic Area Act is intended to promote economic development that is consistent with protection of the scenic, cultural, recreation, and natural resources of the gorge. This is best accomplished by increasing urban density rather than urban sprawl.
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