Editorial: Wyden and Merkley need a better strategy


Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley need a lesson in negotiation. We know it’s their job to bargain and battle on one of the world’s most prestigious stages. But the two Democrats have taken a dumbfounding approach to getting road access to the proposed Cathedral Rock Wilderness Area.

Wyden and Merkley backed the Cathedral Rock legislation. The proposal is to turn a beautiful set of basalt cliffs, juniper hillsides and a new public slice of the John Day River into a wilderness area. The legislation also takes the area’s checkerboard of public and private land and swaps them into a sensible pattern. A bill containing the Cathedral Rock wilderness was introduced Thursday.

The Cathedral Rock plan boosts wilderness and is better for the private landowners. But what the bill also does is create a moat of private land around the Cathedral Rock area, blocking road access. The only way for the public to get in would be to float the John Day River.

How could Oregon’s senators support a public land project gerrymandered so public road access is denied?

They have said the overall public benefit outweighs the problem of road access.

But now Wyden and Merkley have joined together to acknowledge the road access issue.

It’s their solution that’s baffling.

They say that “legitimate concerns have been raised about public access” and they have written a letter to the two landowners in the area asking them to provide road access. They hope the Jefferson County commissioners and the landowners can sit down and work out a compromise.

As we said, though, the bill has already been introduced. The bill has no road access. That means that all the landowners need to do is sit on their hands and they get just what they wanted — no road access.

The landowners have complained that there are problems with poaching and trespassing on their land off nearby Muddy Creek Road. Maybe they will be inspired by the letter from the senators. The senators aren’t waiting to find out.

Road access is a legitimate concern. It deserves a legitimate negotiating strategy — not one that begins with surrender.