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Siskiyou Mountain Range

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Guest Opinion: Protecting wild places creates economic boon

Whitebark pine snag on the rim of Crater Lake.

I wanted to share this Guest Opinion from the Medford Mail Tribune newspaper, written so succinctly by George Wuerthner. In it he responds to the following article regarding the Jackson County commissioners passing a resolution opposing the Crater Lake Wilderness. 

The proposed Crater Lake Wilderness is a 90 mile chain of roadless wildlands extending from Diamond Peak to Mt. McLaughlin. The proposal would expand three existing wilderness areas and provide further protections to backcountry areas in Crater Lake National Park. The Crater Lake Wilderness proposal would protect 500,000 acres in Oregon’s Southern Cascade Mountains, creating a world-class recreational resource and conservation area. The proposal should be supported; it should also provide inspiration for similar efforts in the Siskiyou Mountains.

Overlooking the Crater Lake Wilderness

By George Wuerthner

December 08. 2015 12:01AM
Medford Mail Tribune, Oregon

Guest Opinion: Protecting wild places creates economic boon

Recently the Jackson County commissioners passed a
resolution opposing the Crater Lake Wilderness supported by Oregon Wild,
in part, based upon the presumed negative impacts on the local economy.
Unfortunately most people see their economies in the rear view mirror.
In the case of Jackson County, many folks long for the days when timber
was the main economic driver and hope it can be revived.

where I live, once celebrated its timber industry. But the timber
companies overcut and left town, forcing Bend to consider other ways for
people to make a living. By focusing on and celebrating its
natural attributes, including its surrounding wildlands, Bend
transformed itself. It now is one of the most sought-after places to
live in the West, with a diversified economy, in part, because of the
close proximity to protected wilderness and natural landscapes.

Jackson County’s proximity to wild country, a similar transformation is
possible — if people only have the vision to look forward instead of
backward. Any reading of conservation history demonstrates that
protecting land as parks and/or wilderness ultimately proves to be
advantageous to local/regional economies. Numerous studies back up my
assertions (check out Headwaters Economics —
— for references).

History is full of examples how wrong the local people were about the economic impacts of protecting lands. Starting
with Yellowstone National Park in 1872, local papers in Bozeman, Mont.,
and elsewhere expressed opposition to the park and the “lock up” of
resources. However, for more than a 143 years Yellowstone has been
creating employment and supporting the area’s economies — and has been
much more stable for the economy than the mining, logging and other
resource extraction that park creation precluded.

Looking north from Crater Lake, across the Crater Lake Wilderness, to the sharp summit of Mt. Thielsen in the Mt. Thielsen Wilderness.

Today Bozeman
bills itself as a gateway to Yellowstone, is considered one of the most
desirable communities for business relocation and retirement due to
perceived high quality of life attributes, which in part are due to its
proximity to the park.

When Grand Teton National Park was created,
locals predicted Jackson would become a ghost town. Some 18,000 ghosts
live there today — all in one way or another there because of the park
and surrounding wild areas.

Even more recently, after President
Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah,
locals predicted the demise of their communities. Here are some
recent quotes from Dennis Waggoner, president of the Escalante Chamber
of Commerce, in response to an article claiming that the monument was
“stifling” the community’s economy.

“I don’t believe the town of
Escalante is being stifled at all. To the contrary, the monument is a
major reason why our town is thriving.”

He goes on to note:
are many other examples of expansion in the town of Escalante. During
the last five years, a new medical clinic has opened with pharmacy and
dental services. We are all proud of the new hardware store and home
center. Structures along Main Street are being renovated and are open
for business. New construction is prevalent, and there is difficulty
getting contractors (i.e. plumbers, electricians, roofers, etc.) because
of the number of new and renovated projects.”

The experience of
Escalante has been repeated dozens of times around the West. What are
known as “footloose” entrepreneurs and individuals flock to communities
near protected landscapes: parks, national monuments and wilderness
areas. They bring their businesses or their savings.

If people in
Jackson County are opposed to economic growth and stability, they should
continue to resist the Crater Lake Wilderness proposal. However, if
creating new economic opportunities for you and your children, as well
as attracting new talent to your communities is a goal, then one should
think about supporting the Crater Lake Wilderness proposal.

George Wuerthner has published 38 books, including several on national parks and wilderness. He lives in Bend.


During the winter months, snow covers the Crater Lake Rim Road and the entire park becomes wilderness, open only to non-mechanized travel.

Top of Form
Bottom of
December 02.
2015 5:01PM
County Commissioners oppose Crater Lake wilderness proposal

The Jackson
County Board of Commissioners is voicing its opposition to a proposed Crater
Lake Wilderness Area.

Rick Dyer and Colleen Roberts voted Wednesday to proclaim their strong
opposition to a proposal to designate a Crater Lake Wilderness Area
encompassing Crater Lake National Park and surrounding U.S. Forest Service
lands in the Umpqua and Rogue River national forests.

Doug Breidenthal, who has been criticized for missing at least 30
commissioners’ meetings so far this year, was on a trip to Colorado for a
National Association of Counties meeting. Dyer said Breidenthal also supports
the proclamation.

cited a list of concerns, including increased wildfire risks and a wilderness
area ban on the use of motorized vehicles.

In 2009,
several environmental groups proposed a new 500,000-acre wilderness area that
would include the national park. It would connect the existing wilderness areas
around Diamond Peak, Mount Thielsen and Mount McLoughlin, creating a 90-mile
swath of new wilderness stretching from north to south.

The wilderness
area would surround the west and east sides of Diamond Lake, according to a map
by Oregon Wild, one of the groups supporting the proposal.

In a
proclamation, commissioners said “much of the area is a high-use
recreational area around Diamond Lake and Crater Lake for summer and winter
activities, nearly all centered around motorized uses.”

vehicles, as well as bicycles, cannot be used inside wilderness areas.

lands can be utilized responsibly by motor-sport users,” said Dyer.

According to
Oregon Wild, a wilderness area designation would not affect access roads and
the Crater Lake Rim Road used by the public. It would affect backcountry routes
and areas.

Dyer said
commissioners are also concerned Crater Lake National Park’s let-it-burn
wildfire policy could be extended throughout the proposed wilderness area.
Wildfire could escape a wilderness area boundary.

concerned about the let-it-burn policy and the potential for uncontained
wildfire and its effect on land around it,” he said.

proclamation cites potential wildfire danger to cabins, lodges and campgrounds
in the area. It also notes wildfire smoke from the Diamond Lake area could
negatively impact air quality in the Rogue Valley.

Crater Lake
National Park has a policy to let wildfires burn during most years if they
don’t threaten buildings, homes and public-use areas.

Earlier this
year, park officials announced a temporary policy change to suppress all fires
because of record low snowfall last winter. Firefighters battled the
lightning-sparked National Creek Complex fires during the summer. The two fires
burned nearly 21,000 acres total in the northwest corner of the national park
and in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

Oregon Wild
Communications Associate Arran Robertson said the area around Crater Lake is
important habitat for deer and elk, which are disturbed by motorized vehicles.
He said Oregon Wild has reached out to snowmobile clubs to try and discuss the

Robertson said
environmental groups also have reached out to mountain bikers and are willing
to adjust the boundaries of their wilderness area proposal to avoid impacts on
biking routes.

As for
wildfire, Robertson said fires have been suppressed by humans for more than a
century, leading to overgrown forests and increased wildfire activity.

“We don’t
have the resources to continue to write a blank check for firefighting every
year,” he said, referring to the soaring cost to fight wildfires in the

wildfires to burn naturally would help forests return to a natural state in
which fire regularly burned through areas, he said.

Robertson said
people who build structures in fire-prone areas need to be able to accept
wildfire risk.

He said the
timber industry wrote language opposing the wilderness area designation and is
passing it around to elected officials.

The Douglas
County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution in late November
opposing the designation. The Klamath County Board of Commissioners took a
similar action Tuesday.

Robertson said
the moves are being orchestrated by the timber industry.

Douglas Timber
Operators Executive Director Bob Ragon presented a resolution against the
wilderness designation to commissioners in Douglas County at their meeting in
late November. He said at the time Jackson, Josephine and Klamath County
officials also would be asked to sign the resolution, according to news

Ragon said
snowmobile clubs and businesses had signed the resolution as well.

No one gave a
presentation about the anti-wilderness area proclamation at the Jackson County
commissioners meeting Wednesday.

Dyer said he
didn’t know the genesis of the proclamation, other than the issue was brought
forward by Breidenthal.

“This is
something brought to our board’s attention recently,” Dyer said.

Robertson said
the environmental groups have collected 31,000 signatures in support of the
designation and submitted those to U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of

He said 200
business and organizations also have signed on in support of the designation.

groups supporting the designation include the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council,
Umpqua Watersheds, Crater Lake Institute and Environment Oregon, according to
Oregon Wild.

Staff reporter
Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or
Follow her at
PCT thru-hiker enjoying the view.