In the first quarter of 2012, Friends of the Columbia Gorge experienced both successes and challenges in its ongoing mission to protect and preserve the resources of the Columbia River Gorge. We built support and visibility for our campaign to stop coal trains in the Gorge, lobbied to maintain an established federal conservation fund, continued to build support for the ambitious Gorge Towns to Trails Campaign, launched an exciting new hiking challenge, and reacted to a sudden, illegal clear cut in the Gorge Scenic Area.
Here are some of the highlights of the first quarter of 2012:
- Stop Coal Trains in the Gorge. As coal companies continued their push to make the Gorge a rail-and-barge conduit for hundreds of millions of tons of Asia-bound coal, Friends and its allies continued to build community support against the coal export proposals. Several councils and commissions among the proposed routes have issued resolutions and letters against coal exports, including the city of Hood River (Oregon), Stevenson (Washington) and the Port of Skamania (Washington). On May 7, the Power Past Coal coalition, which includes Friends of the Gorge, attracted 600 people to Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square for a rally that featured prominent environmental lawyer and activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. This event received considerable news coverage, raising awareness of our fight against coal exports.
- LWCF Funding. A crucial aspect of Gorge preservation is the nearly century-old Land and Water Conservation Fund, which enables the U.S. Forest Service to purchase lands for conservation from willing sellers across the country. Congressional gridlock is threatening the continuation of LWCF. Congress will address LWCF funding again this summer and Friends and others will make an all-out push to ensure that this important program is maintained.
- Gorge Towns to Trails: Making the Connection. Gorge Towns to Trails is a vision for a comprehensive trail system around the Columbia Gorge, linking communities with tourism, and highlighting and enhancing the beauty and wonder of the Columbia Gorge. Launched in October 2011 at Mosier Plateau, volunteers, funders and the community of Mosier have come together in trail building to connect Pocket Park and Mosier Creek to the Plateau with its Gorge panoramas and Mosier Valley views. Enthusiasm is building for this project, as Friends engages communities throughout the Gorge and continues to add to its list of Gorge Towns to Trails partners and supporters.
- Waterfall Wanderlust Hiking Challenge. Part of Friends' mission is promoting the Gorge's wealth of recreational resources. The Columbia Gorge has one of the world's greatest concentrations of spectacular waterfalls. Our new hiking program, which began March 1, challenges members and non-members alike to visit 25 beautiful, semi-obscured Gorge waterfalls (2 are outside of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area) by the end of October. The program includes guided hikes.
- BIA/SDS Clearcut. A massive clear cut in a highly visible part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area shocked and appalled those who have seen or learned of it. The results of Friends’ investigation into the matter showed that the Columbia River Gorge Commission (the regulatory arm overseeing the Gorge Scenic Area Act) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) failed to enforce laws requiring public involvement, analysis of impacts and protection of open space lands. The BIA and SDS Logging Company clear cut 110 acres of forest on steep slopes near the Columbia River Historic Highway State Trail in February and March. The clear cut has created a tremendous scar on the landscape. There was scant environmental review of this project and the review failed to consider impacts to rare plants, sensitive species, scenic views, or recreation. Friends is working with the BIA and the Gorge Commission to mitigate the clear cut's effects and ensure that this kind of illegal act is not repeated.
In the fourth quarter of 2011, Friends of the Columbia Gorge saw great successes in its protection of the resources of the Columbia River Gorge. We launched a major community initiative to stop coal trains in the Gorge, celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Act, built support for the ambitious Gorge Towns to Trails Campaign and noted a quiet close to the proposed Cascade Locks Casino.
Here are some of the highlights of the fourth quarter of 2011:
- Stop Coal Trains in the Gorge. Right on the heels of Friends’ incredible victory setting the Boardman coal-fired power plant on a path to closure, the Gorge faces a major new threat from the coal industry. Proposed coal export facilities in Washington state would be fed by an additional 20 to 30 coal trains thundering through the Gorge every day, each 1 ½ miles long, carrying coal in open cars. BNSF Railway estimates that each car would lose 500 to 2,000 pounds of coal during transport. Locomotive diesel emission and coal dust would significantly increase air pollution problems in the Gorge, and exporting millions of tons of coal would worsen climate change worldwide. Friends’ is engaging communities throughout the Gorge to oppose coal export trains in the Columbia Gorge
- 25th Anniversary of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Act. Friends’ culminated the anniversary with celebrations in Portland and Hood River, Oregon. The two events were a grand finale to an amazing anniversary year. Friends’ launched 25 Trails, 25 Years, a challenge to hike 25 trails in the Gorge. More than 60 people hiked all 25! Friends’ worked with Oregon Public Broadcasting on their 60-minute special about the National Scenic Area. We dedicated the Nancy Russell Overlook at Cape Horn. And through a settlement with PGE, we ensured a 2020 closure of the Boardman coal-fired power plan and secured $1 million for Gorge land acquisitions and enhancements.
- Gorge Towns to Trails: Making the Connection. Gorge Towns to Trails is a vision for a comprehensive trail system around the Columbia Gorge, linking communities with tourism, and highlighting and enhancing the beauty and wonder of the Columbia Gorge. Launched in October 2011 at Mosier Plateau, volunteers, funders and the community of Mosier have come together in trail building to connect Pocket Park and Mosier Creek to the Plateau with its Gorge panoramas and Mosier Valley views. Enthusiasm is building for this project, as Friends’ engages communities throughout the Gorge.
- Cascade Locks Casino Agreement Expires. Just as the New Year began, the epic 12-year battle surrounding a proposal to build a massive casino in the heart o the Columbia Gorge apparently came to a quiet end. On January 5, the Port of Cascade Locks decided to allow its agreement with the Warm Springs Tribes to expire. Expiration of the option agreement means the end of the pending casino application. The prospect of a massive casino in Cascade Locks faced stiff obstacles and strong opposition from thousands of Oregonians across the political spectrum, including Friends of the Columbia Gorge. Opponents were concerned about the impact a sprawling casino complex would have on the Columbia Gorge and its rural communities. The Warm Springs Tribes began construction of a new casino on tribal land along Highway 26, located some 80 miles south of the Columbia River. The new project is projected to boost business revenues, create jobs and generate significant income for tribal members.
In the third quarter of 2011, Friends of the Columbia Gorge saw great successes in its protection of the resources of the Columbia River Gorge. We achieved a major conservation milestone, worked to prevent damaging development, and made great strides in protecting sensitive lands for habitat preservation and recreation.
Friends also launched the most ambitious campaign in its history: The Gorge Towns to Trails Campaign seeks to create 60 new miles of Gorge trails, protect over 25,000 acres of habitat for threatened species, and connect trails directly with communities to stimulate economic development. Gorge Towns to Trails (T2T) is the only project working to achieve both purposes of the National Scenic Area Act: protection of Gorge resources, and economic development for Gorge communities. Friends has secured the first land purchases and started our first T2T trail project.
Here are some of the highlights of the third quarter of 2011:
- Removal of Condit Dam on the White Salmon River. On October 26, Friends and its allies saw an enormous victory achieved: the breach of Condit Dam on the White Salmon River. The 125-foot-tall dam had blocked salmon passage for over a century. Its removal opens 33 miles of habitat for endangered salmon, as well as recreation area for boaters and kayakers.
- Pressed for reconsideration of controversial wind energy proposal. Friends worked to oppose the Whistling Ridge wind energy project, which proposes to place 50 wind turbines, each 426 feet tall, on the ridgeline of the National Scenic Area. The project would damage unique scenic vistas, permanently convert forests to industrial use, and would adversely impact hawks, eagles, bats and the endangered Northern spotted owl. In fact, the project site is in a “Spotted Owl Special Emphasis Area.”
Friends supports responsible development of renewable energy, but Whistling Ridge is not responsible. It is not critical to our energy needs and not worth sacrificing the unique resources of the Gorge.
Friends succeeded in pressing Washington State’s Energy Facility Siting Evaluation Council (EFSEC) to modify the proposal, removing 15 turbines to protect scenic resources. But EFSEC still recommended the project be approved by Washington Governor Christine Gregoire. Friends is currently organizing letters to the editor and media to raise the profile of this issue.
- Secured the protection of critical lands. As part of the T2T Campaign, Friends secured the protection of a unique and sensitive 122-acre property in the eastern Gorge. The “Four Sisters” property is home to rare vernal pools, acres of wildflowers and sensitive habitat kept pristine by lack of grazing. The property could also serve as a vital connector for a 15-mile trail from Mosier, OR to The Dalles, OR. Friends was able to secure a conservation buyer, who acquired the property and will convey it to a public agency in the future. This acquisition is an enormous step forward for our Towns to Trails vision, protecting critical swaths of habitat while creating sustainable recreation opportunities.
- Created new recreation opportunities. The Cape Horn Overlook was formally dedicated on August 13, 2011, the culmination of over twenty-five years of effort to protect Cape Horn. The overlook, whose construction was funded by Friends in coordination with the U.S. Forest Service, honors Friends’ Founder and Gorge advocate Nancy Russell. Nancy was instrumental not only in protecting the entire top of Cape Horn, but in protecting hundreds of acres throughout the Gorge, preventing development and degradation.
The Cape Horn Overlook is the crown jewel in the new Cape Horn Trail, which recently became an official trail managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The overlook provides a previously-unaccessible viewpoint that rivals the best in the Gorge.
Furthermore, Friends has made progress in constructing the Mosier Plateau Trail, the first project in our T2T Campaign. The Mosier Plateau Trail will connect from the Mosier Plateau, a bluff owned by Friends’ Land Trust above the city of Mosier, OR, to the Mosier City Park, site of Mosier Creek Falls and a beautiful swimming hole. Visitors will be able to access the trail directly from the urban area of Mosier. The project will provide nearly two miles of new trail and scenic views previously unavailable to the public.
Friends and our volunteers broke ground on trail construction on Friends’ Land Trust property in October and November. We plan to take a break for the wet winter months and resume work in the Spring, planning to complete most of the trail in 2012.
Friends looks forward to even greater successes in this 25th Anniversary year of Gorge protection -- as well as to the November 2011 birthday bash for the National Scenic Area!
* Photos of Condit Dam courtesy of PacifiCorp.
The second quarter of 2011 saw extraordinary gains for Gorge air quality, restoration of the White Salmon River, and recreation projects throughout the Gorge, as well as outdoor education for Gorge middle-school students. These gains are all the more powerful as they occurred in this 25th Anniversary of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act.
Between May-July 2011, Friends of the Columbia Gorge:
- Secured the 2020 shutdown of the PGE Boardman coal-fired power plant. PGE's coal-fired power plant in Boardman, OR has been operating since its inception without pollution controls. It is the #1 source of haze-causing pollutants in Oregon, the state's biggest contributor to global warming, and is responsible for up to 50% of the air pollution in the Columbia Gorge when Gorge air quality is at its worst.
In July 2011, a settlement was reached between Friends of the Columbia Gorge, a coalition of five other environmental groups, and PGE. The agreement cuts the amount of sulfur dioxide PGE can emit by at least 3,000 tons below the requirements of state rules passed in December 2010, and it requires the plant to cease burning coal by the end of 2020. The agreement also requires PGE to pay $2.5 million into a fund for environmental restoration and job-creating clean energy projects in Oregon.
This settlement is a huge victory for Gorge air quality and for the health of those who live and recreate in the region.
- Helped secure the removal of Condit Dam, restoring the White Salmon River. For several years, Friends has worked with allies Friends of the White Salmon and others to secure removal of Condit Dam, which has blocked fish passage on the White Salmon River since 1913. The dam is now scheduled to be breached and removed on October 26, 2011.
Removal of the dam will restore a free-flowing river and reopen areas for fishing and whitewater recreation. The National Marine Fisheries Service reports that dam removal will reopen 33 miles of habitat for steelhead and 14 miles for salmon. The dam will be the second-highest dam removed to date in the United States.
- Provided outdoor education to over 200 middle-school students living in the Gorge. Through the Clausen Youth Education Program, Friends provided environmental education to the sixth-grade students of Jemtegaard and Canyon Creek Middle Schools in Clark County, WA. Many of these students live in the Columbia Gorge, and many expressed little knowledge of the wonders "right in their backyard" before the program. Friends and volunteers led the students in a restoration project planting trees, in learning about plant ecology, on a hike and scavenger hunt, and in a presentation on Lewis & Clark history (complete with hatchet-throwing and salmon jerky). Teachers and students alike gave rave reviews for the outdoor experience and the education they gained. Friends looks forward to conducting the program for a fifth year in 2012, and expanding the program to other school systems in the future.
- Helped create new recreation opportunities through the National Scenic Area. Friends has worked for over 25 years to establish a park and trail at Cape Horn, a bluff near Washougal, WA. In August, Friends will oversee the dedication of the Cape Horn Overlook, a new viewpoint on the Cape Horn Trail providing breathtaking views of the Gorge. The viewpoint stands on the site of what was once a 5,000-square-foot home; Friends' Land Trust purchased the home in 2006, removed it, recycled 70% of the materials, and conveyed the property to the U.S. Forest Service. Now it and its scenic beauty are public for all to enjoy.
Moreover, Friends is working to complete the Mosier Plateau Trail, the first project in our Gorge Towns to Trails Campaign. The Mosier Plateau Trail will connect from the Mosier Plateau, a bluff owned by Friends Land Trust above the city of Mosier, OR, to the Mosier City Park, site of Mosier Creek Falls and a beautiful swimming hole. Visitors will be able to access the trail directly from the urban area of Mosier. The project will provide nearly two miles of new trail and scenic views previously unavailable to the public.
In the first four months of 2011, Friends has made great progress in protecting the resources of the Columbia Gorge. Since the year began, we have:
- Successfully delayed a Gorge casino. Friends' organizing and advocacy helped delay a federal decision on the proposal to place Oregon's first off-reservation casino in the Gorge. Now casino opponent John Kitzhaber has been elected Oregon Governor and has the power to veto a federal approval. In May, the Warm Springs Tribes broke ground on a "temporary casino" on their reservation. The immediate threat of a Gorge casino is ended -- at least for four years.
- Launched Gorge Towns to Trails campaign. Gorge Towns to Trails is a visionary campaign to make major environmental and recreational gains in the Gorge. The campaign aims to to establish over 60 miles of new trail systems in Oregon and Washington, enhance over 25,000 acres of habitat corridors with strategic acquisitions, and to link trails and recreation areas to six Gorge communities to stimulate economic development. In this first year of the campaign, Friends will create a list of priority properties for our land trust to pursue, acquire one to two properties, and begin outreach to a broad spectrum of Gorge stakeholders, building support among Gorge businesses, governments, trail advocates and agencies. This campaign will last several years and fundamentally change the Gorge for the better, creating new recreation area and protecting thousands of acres of sensitive habitat.
- Challenged controversial wind energy development. Friends supports wind energy and believes it is a vital component of a balanced energy future. However, wind energy projects must be appropriately sited and avoid putting wildlife and scenic resources at risk. The Whistling Ridge wind energy development would place up to 50 turbines north of Underwood Mountain in Washington state, right on the border of the National Scenic Area, across the Columbia River from Hood River, OR. At least 25 turbines would be highly visible from I-84 east of Hood River. Moreover, this area is a Spotted Owl Special Emphasis Area and the risks to avian wildlife would be significant. The project is only slated to produce 20 MW of power -- less than 0.01% of the total energy needs of Washington and Oregon. And there is no guarantee the energy produced would stay in the Northwest. For all of these reasons, Friends has challenged this inappropriate proposal. Friends staff and experts have testified before the Energy Facilities Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC), which will make a recommendation to Washington governor Christine Gregoire, the final decision-maker. Our activists have generated 130 comments to EFSEC, and Friends is optimistic that at a minimum some turbines will be removed or moved, and at most the proposal will be denied.
- Led our Annual Spring Hiking Program. The best way to learn about the Gorge is to get out in it. Friends is currently leading our Annual Spring Hiking Program. So far Friends has led 32 of our 60 Spring hikes for approximately 650 hikers. Friends' volunteer hike leaders educate hikers about Gorge history, ecology, geology and the conservation threats it faces today. We are also leading two "Transit to Trailhead" hikes, on which hikers take mass transit to the trailhead, reducing the hike's carbon footprint.
We look forward to reporting on further successes as the year proceeds. Thank you for your support!
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