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Senator Wyden tests local support of The Badlands Wilderness designation

By Rachel Odell
The Bulletin
January 14, 2003

When it comes to establishing legislated wilderness, having a wild, pristine area is only one criteria.

Having politicians back the effort is equally important.

Proponents of establishing a wilderness area at the Badlands - located about 20 miles east of Bend - came one step closer last week after meeting with Josh Kardon, chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

During a visit to Bend on Thursday and Friday, Kardon met with environmentalists from the Oregon Natural Desert Association, Deschutes County Commissioners, rancher Ray Clarno, who has a permit to graze cattle within the Badlands, and others. They discussed whether Wyden would support a wilderness area by supporting legislation to create it," 

In an interview, Kardon said Wyden would consider introducing a bill to create a Badlands wilderness area only if local governments and other members of the Oregon congressional delegation, Republicans, U.S. Congressman Greg Walden and U.S. Senator Gordon Smith, signed on.

"Senator Wyden is generally supportive of wilderness, but he will not attempt to move legislation on Badlands without local support", Kardon said. "The case needs to be made to the counties that wilderness would benefit all involved".

Wyden was not available to comment.

Commissioners from the three affected counties - Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook - have not endorsed a wilderness proposal for the Badlands. The Bend City Council has unanimously voted to support the Badlands wilderness. Deschutes County Commissioner Tom DeWolf said commissioners would partake in official hearings on a wilderness proposal but will not take a stand on the issue until they have heard arguments for and against it.

"We are up on the issue," DeWolf said, "To me the next step, whenever that happens, would be public hearings".

Crook County Judge Scott Cooper said the commissioners need more information before they can take a stand on Badlands wilderness.

"There has never been a discussion in county court about Badlands wilderness", Cooper said. Our general concern would be to look at preserving the multiple use concept. If there is no economic detriment through designation, I don't know why the county would be opposed to it".

Beyond securing local support, wilderness proponents must secure bipartisan congressional support, Kardon said. Walden, Smith and Wyden teamed up in 2000 to create the Steens Mountain Wilderness Area.

Kardon said a bill to create more wilderness in Oregon would perish without the support of the Republican contingent.

However, the Republicans from Oregon have been reluctant to formally endorse the Badlands.

Dallas Boyd, spokesman for Walden, said Monday that he was not aware of a Badlands wilderness proposal being on Walden's priority agenda. Moreover, Walden would support a wilderness bill only if it was widely supported at a local level, Boyd said.

"Any wilderness designation would require there to be unified support among ranchers, stakeholders, environmentalists and local officials for Congressman Walden to support it," he said. "That was the criteria that was met when Steens was designated, and that principal applies across the board."

Bill Marlett, executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association, has been advocating for the creation of a wilderness area at Badlands for nearly 20 years.
He said Kardon's trip to Bend is significant, because it underscores Wyden's interest in the Badlands

Marlett said it is important to talk to all of the people and government officials who would be affected by the creation of a wilderness area to avoid conflict. However, federal officials should not use the challenge of gaining tri-county support as a pretext for why they cannot introduce a wilderness bill, he said

On the one hand you don't want to create unnecessary conflict or turmoil because you are not talking to all of the players", Marlett said.

On the other hand, you don't want to be held hostage by a process that is intended to represent a statewide, if not national, interest".

The Badlands is a vast area that spans 38,000 acres and includes Juniper forests, dry canyons, and sagebrush. It contains archaeological sites, sage grouse habitat, hiking trails, livestock grazing allotments and roads for all-terrain vehicles. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a federal agency that is part of the Department of the Interior, the Badlands are considered a Wilderness Study Area, said Barry Phelps, recreation and wilderness specialist for the Prineville BLM.

That Designation means that Agency officials studied the land and determined it had "wilderness values". Wilderness values are officially characterized as 5,000 acres or more of contiguous public land that is its natural condition. The designation also indicates that agency officials believe it should become a legislated wilderness area

Only Congress can create wilderness area, which were established under the 1965 Wilderness Act.

If the Badlands become wilderness, the area will be closed to motorized and non-motorized vehicles.

Joani Duford, Land use director of the Central Oregon Motorcycle and All Terrain Vehicle Club, said that she was disappointed to have not met with Kardon during his recent trip.

"When I spoke to Senator Wyden, he said he was not going to do anything amongst the parties unless there was consensus", she said, “I am very disappointed I was not contacted".

Dufourd said her group opposes creation of a Badlands wilderness area, because it will cut off off road vehicle access.

If it is declared a wilderness area, officials will also likely retire the grazing permits for allotments within the Badlands boundary.

Wilderness legislation could also mandate several land exchanges so that privately-owned land within the Badlands is traded for publicly-owned land outside of the boundary, Marlett said.


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Read more: 

The Badlands Wilderness preservation puzzle
A brief history of The Badlands Wilderness Study Area

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