H.R. 2781: To amend the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to designate segments of the Molalla River in Oregon, as components of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, and for other purposes

H.R. 2781

To amend the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to designate segments of the Molalla River in Oregon, as components of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, and for other purposes

Sponsor
Rep. Kurt Schrader

Date
November 18, 2009 (111th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

The House is scheduled to consider H.R. 2781 on Wednesday, November 18, 2009, under a rule.  H.R. 2781 was introduced on June 9, 2009, by Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) and referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, which held a mark-up and reported the bill, as amended, by a vote of 23-18, on October 23, 2009.

 

Bill Summary

H.R. 2781 would designate two segments of the Molalla River in Northwest Oregon, equaling 21.3 miles, as recreational segments of the Wild and Scenic River System.  The segments are currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as the Molalla River Recreation Corridor, without the same use restriction as segments of the Wild and Scenic River System.  As a segment of the Wild and Scenic River System, the river would be subject to new federal restrictions and free water flow protection.  The Wild and Scenic River System is overseen by the Department of Interior and a council including representatives from the BLM, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest Service.  The Molalla River segments would be directly managed by the BLM.

 

Background

The Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created to protect the natural characteristics of the nation's "outstanding" free flowing rivers and their immediate surrounding environments.   The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act provides three separate designations for rivers: wild, scenic, or recreational.  According to the National Wild and Scenic River System, a river, or section of river, is designated wild if it is free of impoundments, has primitive shorelines, is only accessible by trails, and has unpolluted waters.  Scenic rivers have largely undeveloped shorelines, may be accessible by roads in places, and are more developed than wild rivers.   Rivers are designated as recreational if they are readily accessible by road, have some development along the shoreline, and may have had some impoundment or diversion (like a dam) in the past.  If a river receives a Wild and Scenic River designation, no new dams may be constructed and federally assisted water resource development projects would not be allowed.  Specifically, the designation prohibits construction of facilities that endanger the free flow and/or resource value of the river.   The designation also authorizes the acquisition of land along a river corridor, not to exceed 100 acres per mile on both sides of designated a river.  In the past, some segments of rivers that Congress has included in the Wild and Scenic River System have raised concerns because they seemingly lacked the essential natural qualities needed to be designated as a scenic river.

 

According to the H.R. 2781's sponsor, the net-effect of the designation would restrict timber management access to roughly 420 acres of land around the river.  On October 1, 2009, Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) said, "I am sensitive to the reduction. Therefore, as the committee           moves forward, I would ask the Chairman and Ranking Member to work with me and my staff to ensure there will be no net-loss of the acres available for timber management as a result of this legislation."  However, H.R. 2781 does not contain any provision to offset the restricted timber land with other federal land.  During consideration of the bill in the Natural Resources Committee, Democrats blocked consideration of an amendment that would have offset the lost timber land.

 

According to dissenting views filed by Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests & Public Lands Ranking Member Rob Bishop (R-UT):

The timber industry is a large part of the tax base in many communities throughout the Northwest.  The recent recession has sharply accelerated the decline of the industry but for close to a decade Congress has helped offset the loss of timber receipts by creating and reauthorizing the Secure Rural Schools program which has cost billions of dollars.  To simply continue to lock up more and more lands to appease special interest groups without finding other lands to offset these lost acres is not only fiscally and economically irresponsible but environmentally ignorant, as well.

 

Indeed, Oregon's unemployment level in September, 2009, (the most recent month with statistics available) was 11.5 percent, up almost double from 6.8 percent the same month last year.   As economic output, much of which was once fueled by the State's timber industry, continues to deteriorate, Oregon is losing valuable revenue needed to fund schools and the State government.  According to a Pew Center on the States study released this month, Oregon has experienced a 19 percent loss of revenue from 2008 to 2009 and faces a budget gap of 14.5 percent in FY 2010.  To make matters worse, the federal government owns 53 percent of Oregon, and does not pay property taxes.  While the federal government makes payments to local governments that help offset losses in property taxes, State property taxes and taxes on production from the land are still limited because of the federal ownership and restrictions.  Some Members may be concerned that H.R. 2781 would block access to timber resources on approximately 420 acres during a recession without offsetting the loss by opening an equal amount of federal land to timber management.

 

Cost

According to CBO, enacting H.R. 2781 would have no effect on the federal budget because the two segments of the river in the bill are already managed by the Bureau of Land Management as the Molalla River Recreation Corridor, though without the same use restriction as segments of the Wild and Scenic River System.