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Defense Spending Bill Includes Lots Of Land Deals

Mount Stuart and Lake Ingalls in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington's Cascades. An expansion of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness was among several public lands initiatives that were added to must-pass defense bill that's moving through Congress.
Sean Munson/Flickr
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Mount Stuart and Lake Ingalls in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington's Cascades. An expansion of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness was among several public lands initiatives that were added to must-pass defense bill that's moving through Congress.

Congress has added lots of land deals – including some in the Northwest – to a must-pass defense spending package.

But a bill that would boost logging on Oregon's O&C forestland didn't make the cut. These are public lands in Western Oregon, named for the Oregon & California Railroad -- O&C for short -- that once owned them.

Some are complaining that Congress is turning the defense spending bill into a "land grab." The bill now includes 250,000 acres of new wilderness and 15 new or expanded national parks.

But others are thrilled to see a backlog of wilderness proposals on track to passing.

In Washington, the bill includes a 22,000-acre expansion of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., says that's good news.

"Designating these will make sure that they are managed and protected into the future and can't be sold off or used in ways that don't allow the public to use them," she said.

The bill would also create a new national historical park at the Hanford site, a piece of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, and it would open public access to Rattlesnake Mountain in Hanford Reach National Monument.

In Oregon, the bill would add 4,070 acres to Oregon Caves National Monument and make the river running through the monument the first underground Wild and Scenic river. U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., is happy about that.

“The Oregon Caves National Monument is a special place that pumps millions of dollars into the local economy," DeFazio said. "This expansion will ensure we protect this incredible caves system."

The bill would also give Wild and Scenic status to 34 miles of Washington's Middle Fork-Snoqualmie River and 14 miles of Illabot Creek in the North Cascades.

But there's one major land deal missing from this package, according to DeFazio.

"The biggest thing didn't get done, and that was a permanent resolution of the conflict over our O&C lands," he said. "We had hoped to negotiate a solution into this legislation. Unfortunately that attempt was rejected by the leadership on both sides, and we're going to have to come back to that issue in the next Congress. That's critically important for much of Southwest Oregon."

DeFazio and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have been pushing for O&C Lands legislation that would increase logging on some federally owned forests in Western Oregon while adding environmental protections for older forests.

Wyden and DeFazio say they tried to get that legislation into the defense spending package on track to pass Congress this month, but it didn't work.

"House Republican leaders stepped in to block critical Oregon priorities that have received bipartisan support – including the O&C forestry bill and Klamath River Basin restoration agreement," Wyden said. "It is my plan to keep pulling out all the stops to move these important bills forward as soon as possible.”

While it seems like DeFazio has given up hope for getting an O&C lands bill passed in this Congress, Wyden's office says the senator will keep trying to get it through this month.

If the bill doesn't pass this session, it will be facing a new, Republican-controlled Congress next year.

--Cassandra Profita

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Cassandra Profita