In 1984 Republican President Ronald Reagan signed a bill making the Umpqua’s tallest peak, Mount Thielsen, a part of a 55,100 acre wilderness. Almost 30 years later only 2 percent of Douglas County is protected as wilderness.
Our three relatively small wilderness areas, the Rogue-Umpqua Divide, Boulder Creek and Mount Thielsen, add up to only 60,000 acres of wilderness in Douglas County’s 3 million acres. In Idaho and Montana there are two wilderness areas the Bob Marshall, 1 million acres, and the Frank Church, 2.3 million acres, which together are larger than our whole county.
In 1972 President Richard Nixon, another west coast Republican, signed the Endangered Species Act. This pivotal legislation helped save our country’s national symbol, the bald eagle, from extinction. Today, more than 40 years later, everyone hopes the ESA helps protect our wild coho salmon. Within the next few years the northern spotted owl will graduate from its “threatened listing” to full-fledged “endangered” and then the pressure will definitely be increased on our unofficial, wildlife refuge areas: the public forest managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service (Umpqua National Forest).
One of my favorite Republican presidents, after the civil rights leader Abraham Lincoln, was Teddy Roosevelt. More than 100 years ago he not only created the U.S. Forest Service but also our beautiful, world-renowned Crater Lake National Park. This national park has the deepest lake in North America and is a true wonder of the world.
When I was a kid growing up here in Oregon, Republican Governor Tom McCall was cleaning up the toxic Willamette River and he passed the groundbreaking bottle bill which keeps the valuable metal aluminum from being buried under the ground in our overstuffed landfills. As a historian and hiking guide, I have always wondered why and how the Oregon Republicans lost their longtime, conservation tradition mentioned above.
Currently, I am reading Douglas Brinkley’s book “The Wilderness Warrior,” a biography of Teddy Roosevelt with a focus on his work around creating forest reserves, national parks and wildlife refuges. The well-moneyed special interests against his proposals are similar as today. Yet in our 21st century the new pressures of overpopulation and climate change create a renewed urgency for sustaining our large wild areas.
In the late 1800s, Oregon citizen and activist William Gladstone Steele proposed Crater Lake National Park boundaries, which were originally twice what we see today. His first proposal included Mount Thielsen, Mount Bailey and Diamond Lake. Through the compromising nature of Congress, the national park was whittled down to the square area we know today.
The current proposal of the Crater Lake Wilderness puts these large roadless areas back on the table for protection and helps make wildlife corridors which run east and west. North-south corridors already exist as the series of existing wilderness areas are primarily the “rock and ice” spine along the Cascade Mountains.
Since Douglas County primarily votes Republican and since the Republicans control the majority in Congress in Washington, as a registered independent, I’m asking our Republican leaders to put “conserve” back into conservative and let us conserve these vast tracts of wild lands. Like the Apostle Luke said, “Your soul needs the wild”: Luke 5:16.
Patrick Starnes has been leading hikes around the land of Umpqua. On the last Saturday of every September he leads a hike to the top of Mount Thielsen. Hikers will carpool from Roseburg at 8 a.m. behind the Douglas County Library along Deer Creek off Fowler Street. For more information, call Starnes at 541-580-9120, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.