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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