By Chad Brown

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I just returned from Washington, D.C., with a group of veterans and young people representing Soul River Inc., an organization I founded to connect inner city youth and American military veterans to the outdoors through incredible educational experiences — whether in the outdoors or walking the halls of Congress, fighting for what’s right.

There are few times when Oregonians can rely on Washington, D.C., to do the right thing. Yet, this may be one of those times. Congress has an opportunity to pass three public lands bills that would meet diverse interests in the state, but it will require people coming together. The proposals concern public lands management issues, including wildfire in Central Oregon, on the Crooked River, securing recreation and conservation benefits in places like the Molalla and Rogue rivers through the Oregon Wildlands Act and honoring an Oregon hero by creating the Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Special Designation Act in the North Umpqua River watershed. The Oregon delegation should work together to ensure that this balanced suite of bills is included in any public lands package this year. Time is running out.

The Crooked River bill, sponsored by Congressman Greg Walden, is opposed by conservation groups that think it sets a bad precedent to allow lands that are supposed to be protected to be released from that protection. The bill would “release” some acreage within a wilderness study area along the Crooked River in Oregon. However, there are others who see this as an important bill that will help protect a community from potential wildfires.

The Frank and Jeanne Moore bill, sponsored by Congressman ­Peter DeFazio and Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, is a bill that celebrates and honors one of Oregon’s last remaining living World War II veterans, Frank Moore, and his wife Jeanne, stalwart defenders of the North Umpqua basin. Frank Moore put his life on the line to protect this nation and then came home to protect Steamboat Creek.

As many veterans know, spending time in special outdoor places can help to heal our wounds, seen and unseen. Fishing for salmon, steelhead, trout and other species along this tributary of the North Umpqua River — one of the most important ecological areas in the Northwest — helped to heal Frank Moore. Let’s thank and honor him by protecting this area for veterans.

The Oregon Wildlands Act, sponsored by Sens. Wyden and Merkley, is a bill about our outdoor economy and our conservation ethic. This bill would protect over 250 miles of new Wild and Scenic Rivers; create two wilderness areas: one for Devil’s Staircase and one that adds acres to the Rogue wilderness area. It would create two recreation areas for the wild Rogue and the Molalla rivers. These are treasured places in the state and areas that have been up for and worthy of protection for more then a decade.

This package of bills is a microcosm of Oregon — protecting communities, valuing and honoring our veterans and special citizens, supporting our outdoor industry economy and our strong conservation ethic. Many of them have been discussed and supported for a decade or more. It’s time to get these places and rivers protected. Thirty years after the passage of the Oregon Omnibus Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, championed by Oregon Republican Sen. Mark Hatfield that protected many of our most treasured rivers, including the Deschutes, the McKenzie and the Sandy rivers, we are due for bipartisan collaboration on protecting Oregon’s treasures.

Instead of fighting with each other, our delegation should fight together to get this package — all three bills — to the president’s desk before this Congress adjourns this year.

This is a balanced approach. Oregon has a long history of bipartisan support for conservation. It’s called “The Oregon Way.” Let’s get all three done, and let’s do it now.

— Chad Brown is the founder of Soul River, Inc., a Portland-based nonprofit.

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