On Tuesday morning, Environment Oregon, Oregon Wild, and Umpqua Watersheds stood together with businesses, outdoor enthusiasts, and advocates of wild places in delivering over 31,000 public comments and 205 business and organization endorsements to Sen. Ron Wyden in support of permanently protecting Crater Lake and the surrounding forests, mountains, and streams by creating a 500,000-acre, 75-mile wilderness corridor around Crater Lake National Park. The groups held a press conference in front of Sen. Wyden’s office, with Mary Gautreaux, Deputy State Director for Sen. Wyden, receiving the comments.
Despite Crater Lake itself being protect by its National Park designation, the surrounding forests, mountains, and streams face attacks that would dramatically alter the health of the ecosystem, home to Roosevelt elk, black bears and bald eagles and the headwaters of the Rogue and Umpqua Rivers. The threats to Crater Lake include logging proposals, such as the Forest Service’s Bybee logging project which includes clearcutting along the Western boundary of the Park, and a proposed helicopter tour of the Park, with noise pollution disrupting wildlife and destroying the quiet and solitude that many visitors value.
To protect Crater Lake from these attacks, Oregonians are calling for wilderness designation, the gold standard of protection for America’s public lands, for 500,000 acres of forest surrounding Crater Lake. The federal Wilderness Act of 1964 protects the most critical habitats of America from incursion by loggers, miners and developers. The proposal would create a 75-mile wilderness corridor spanning north and south of the Park.
“The truth is, Oregon has fallen behind in Wilderness protection compared to other states. With only 4% of the state protected as Wilderness, now is the time to give our crown jewel, Crater Lake and the surrounding wildlands, the permanent protection it deserves.” said Bridget Callahan, Wilderness Campaign Organizer for Oregon Wild, a statewide conservation organization that has helped secure 1.7 million acres of Wilderness in Oregon since 1974.
To build awareness for the proposal local organizations have been reaching out to Oregonians across the state, educating individuals about the threats to Crater Lake and the opportunity for protection. One group, Environment Oregon, collected nearly 30,000 public comments from April to October of 2015 urging Sen. Wyden to introduce a Crater Lake Wilderness bill.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Rikki Seguin, state director of Environment Oregon. “Since April alone, our staff has spoken face-to-face with over 50,000 Oregonians about this effort. Crater Lake is Oregon’s crown jewel, and Oregonians from all walks of life are calling for action in order to protect it.”
Crater Lake National Park is Oregon’s only National Park, attracting over half a million visitors annually, who in turn spend money in the local economies. According to a 2014 National Park Service study, visitors to Crater Lake National Park made over $45 million in economic contributions to nearby gateway communities. In support of the Crater Lake Wilderness proposal are 205 businesses and organizations, many of which are based in these gateway communities. On Tuesday, small businesses joined together with businesses like Patagonia, to call for permanent protection.
“Proposed wilderness protected by the ‘Crater Lake Wilderness’ would safe-guard the river system we have grown to love and rely on for our business,” said Sydney Craft, owner of Canoa Sport LLC, a kayak club and rental company in Roseburg.
Community members are advocating for the proposed Crater Lake Wilderness bill to be introduced before Congress by the end of 2015.