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.
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