By Bridget Callahan

Putting Crater Lake on the state quarter and the license plate has made it the definition of a state icon, rivaling Mount Hood and the Oregon Coast.

As was reported by The Bulletin, we recently celebrated National Park Week. Oregon even received some national attention as Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell toured Crater Lake to kick off a week of celebrations. While at Crater Lake, Jewell noted the importance of our public lands and the role they play in providing a high quality of life — as well as their importance as economic engines.

These recent events offer an opportunity to reflect on how well we protect the natural areas that make Oregon such a great place to live, work and play.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and while we’ve protected pieces of Oregon’s iconic landscapes, it’s time to look to our crown jewel — Crater Lake — as a place worthy of the highest protection we can provide. Unfortunately, much of the wildlands surrounding Crater Lake National Park remain unprotected — despite being a key wildlife corridor for deer, elk, bear, eagles, wolves and more.

Taking a look at the numbers, we fall well behind neighboring states — Washington state has protected 10 percent of its state permanently as designated wilderness areas, California has protected 15 percent and Idaho has protected 8 percent. Currently, Oregon has protected only 4 percent of our most iconic landscapes. We can and must do better.

Crater Lake certainly offers the jaw-dropping landscape we all cherish. But the natural beauty of Crater Lake extends far beyond Wizard Island and the caldera. Unprotected lands around the lake serve as the headwaters of the Deschutes, Klamath, Umpqua and Rogue, all key steelhead and salmon rivers. Connecting the east to the west and north to the south, Crater Lake is an important wildlife corridor for many of our threatened and endangered species.

As Jewell noted, Crater Lake also supports Oregon’s growing recreational tourism economy. The latest National Park Service study found that Crater Lake, in addition to creating 551 associated jobs, creates $45 million in economic activity that directly benefit nearby communities. Beyond the direct economic activity, Oregon’s natural treasures provide a high quality of life, which attracts other industries, like the high-tech sector, to Oregon.

According to a 2012 report by Headwaters Economics, “Non-metro counties in the west with protected federal lands have higher per-capita incomes than counties without protected lands.” Businesses seek out our high quality of living as a means to stay competitive, attract talent and retain a skilled work force.

It is easy to be struck by the number of stunning landscapes we have in Oregon — from the Badlands to Three Sisters and the Mount Jefferson Wilderness. But it’s also surprising to learn that Crater Lake and the surrounding backcountry does not share the same level of protection as many of our state treasures. In fact, there are proposals moving forward to log right up to the park boundary.

A wilderness designation for the backcountry would not affect the lodge and access roads to the lake. Protecting the land in and around Crater Lake National Park as wilderness is an opportunity for Oregon to live up to our reputation for protecting the most iconic landscapes in our state.

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, this is the best time to give our state icon the level of protection it deserves.

— Bridget Callahan works for Oregon Wild and lives in Portland.