Wyden, Merkley Welcome Step Forward for Secure Rural Schools Program, Recreation Opportunities and Wildfire Prevention in Oregon

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., today welcomed passage of legislation by the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to ensure much-needed funding for rural counties, as well as legislation to boost recreation opportunities in Southwestern Oregon and on the Molalla River in Clackamas County and strengthen wildfire prevention work in both of those regions. Both bills are now eligible to be considered by the full Senate.

The Committee passed S. 430, legislation introduced by Senators Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Wyden, James Risch, R-Idaho, and Merkley to authorize the Secure Rural School Program for two years. The program expired at the end of FY2018. The Committee also passed an amendment, negotiated by Wyden, that ensures counties receive a ten percent increase in funding, efficient and timely appointments to Secure Rural School Resource Advisory Committees, and that no program funds are used for lobbying. The Committee also passed an amendment to allow Secure Rural School funds to support rural broadband projects.

“Congress desperately needs to extend this lifeline for rural communities in Oregon,” Wyden said. “A two-year extension will provide rural counties the resources they need now to support schools and roads, and it will also lay the groundwork to create a permanent solution – my bill to create an endowment fund to get these communities off the financial roller coaster once and for all.”

“Secure Rural Schools payments provide a much-needed lifeline for critical services ranging from schools to roads to public safety,” said Merkley. “Our rural communities shouldn’t be left in the dark about whether the federal funding they need for these vital services will be gone from one day to the next. That’s why I’m pleased that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted today to pass a two year extension of this program, and I’ll be fighting to get this funding across the finish line and signed into law.”

The Committee also passed the Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act, legislation introduced by Wyden and Merkley that would create the Rogue Canyon Recreation Area and the Molalla Recreation Area, expand the Wild Rogue Wilderness Area, and prohibit destructive mining on pristine rivers in Southwestern Oregon. Provisions, negotiated by Wyden and based on local feedback, also passed that further strengthen wildfire mitigation by requiring the Bureau of Land Management to implement wildfire risk reduction plans for the recreation areas and consultation with the Oregon Governor’s wildfire council to prepare studies and plans. 

“The ORE Act builds on our state’s proud legacy to protect our special places for future generations,” Wyden said. “Importantly, this legislation will be a huge boost to outdoor recreation in Southwestern Oregon and in rural Clackamas County, while continuing and strengthening critical wildfire prevention and forest health efforts and helping local communities prepare for wildfire.”

“These areas are among Oregon’s most breathtaking landscapes,” Merkley said. “Not only do they fuel a robust outdoor recreation economy, they also are part of who we are as Oregonians. This legislation emphasizes that it is our responsibility to protect these lands from degradation, increasingly intense wildfires, and other impacts so our greatest resource is available to future generations, and I’m looking forward to it coming to the floor for a full Senate vote.”

“Southwest Oregon’s wild rivers are the heart and soul of our tourism and recreation economy,” said Pam Marsh, Oregon House of Representative, District 5. “They bring people from all over the world that spend money that ripples throughout our communities. Thank you to Senators Merkley and Wyden for stepping up to protect the Wild Rogue Wilderness and pass legislation to stop strip mines threatening the Smith and Illinois Rivers.”

“Our business, the Motel Del Rogue, credits our iconic, majestic Rogue River for its name and rich history of housing fishermen, fisherwomen, rafters, kayakers, hunters, hikers, adventurers, tourists and all lovers of nature for generations,” said Kevin and Constance Marr, Owners, Motel Del Rogue. “The health of the river and surrounding lands is vital to our business, our family, our employees and their families, and by extension our entire local economy.”

“My business, South Coast Tours, depends on clean, healthy rivers and access to public lands, and my family and town care about these things too. For these reasons, I support the Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act. I’m grateful that Senator Wyden is working to protect our wild rivers from the threat of strip mining,” said Dave Lacey, owner of South Coast Tours, resident of Gold Beach.

“Protecting the Rogue River and its tributaries promotes not only the health of the ecosystem, but the health of the Southern Oregon economy. Tourism on the Rogue supports outfitters like us, but also restaurants, hotels, transportation services, and more. A healthy Rogue River means more jobs and more business growth for the region. Thanks to Senator Wyden for his efforts to protect the special lands and rivers in Rogue basin,” said Kate Wollney, OARS Oregon Regional Manager 

“The rivers of the South Kalmiopsis are some of the most unique and special rivers in the world. I want to thank Senators Wyden and Merkley for working to protect these rivers as well as the famous Rogue and Molalla Rivers with the Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act. Without protections, development would degrade our lands, which would greatly impact our rivers,” said Zach Collier, owner of Northwest Rafting Company.

“As the largest trade association of commercial fishing families on the west coast, we thank Senators Wyden and Merkley for working to protect the headwaters of Oregon’s Wild and Scenic Illinois, Rogue and Smith Rivers,” said Glen Spain, NW Regional Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA). “If we want salmon to continue to exist, we have to protect their home streams. These key salmon-producing rivers are no place for strip mines.”  

“From fishing to rafting and boating, to hiking and camping, our Rogue supports tourism and our economy,” said Dave Strahan of Big Rock Sports. “The lower Rogue is a huge community asset, contributing up to $30 million annually to the local economy.  While some of the Rogue canyon is protected, most is not. We owe it to our children and grandchildren, and our economy, to expand the protection of this irreplaceable resource. Thanks to Senator Wyden and Merkley for their efforts to protect this special place.”

“The stretch of the Wild Rogue between Grave Creek and Foster Bar is something to hand down to our children and grandchildren. It is our local treasure — it is the lifeblood of so many of us — and it deserves our best efforts to protect it,” said Alyssa WarrenWood, Owner, Rogue Infinity Outfitters.

A web version of this release is here.