As rains soak the 48,000 acre Eagle Creek fire, dueling visions are emerging for what happens next.
Last week, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) introduced legislation that would expedite clearing the damaged forest.
Walden is sponsoring House Bill 3715, the Scenic Columbia Gorge Restoration Act of 2017, which would require the U.S. Forest Service to fast-track salvage logging of the burned areas and proceed with replanting new ones without customary environmental assessment and evaluation of the impact on endangered species.
Given the widespread emotional response to the Eagle Creek fire, it's not surprising that Walden, a Hood River native, is anxious to restore what was lost.
But Friends of the Columbia Gorge, the leading environmental group in the 292,000-acre Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area doesn't like Walden's proposal.
"Salvage logging is completely inappropriate for the Columbia River Gorge," said Michael Lang, the group's conservation director in a statement. "The Walden clear-cut bill could undo over 100 years forest protection, resulting in road building and logging in areas that are extremely sensitive and set a dangerous national precedent for undermining wilderness protections."
Lang notes that the bill would limit public involvement in developing a plan and attempts to prohibit litigation conditions the group says is "unacceptable."
"There is no strong, scientific evidence of an ecological benefit from salvage logging in a post-fire environment," Lang added. "The National Scenic Area Management Plan already has rules for emergency and disaster response and recovery. We should let existing laws work and not add confusion with new laws and regulations."