Rainie Falls on the Rogue River gives meaning to the word "whitewater." The water froths and boils, tumbling hard over the rocks. It's only about a 6-foot drop, but river rafters will tell you it's a long 6 feet when the only thing between you and a long violent swim is a bright yellow rubber raft. If you sit by Rainie Falls long enough in the late summer, you're assured of seeing at least one group of rafters flip as the group tries to maneuver through the churning river. That's why many choose to bump down the nearby fish ladder or walk around the falls rather than navigate this rapid.
As the season moves to autumn, you can watch salmon and steelhead slamming their silvery bodies up the falls as they swim up the river to spawn before dying. As you sit by the falls, you may see a lucky fisherman walking up the trail that leads to the falls lugging a 50-pound salmon strapped to his backpack; you will certainly hear the echoes of the shouts of swimmers up river, playing in the current. But environmentalists and business owners along the Rogue and here in Eugene are worried that if plans to log along the Rogue go through, all this is going to change.
Conservationists have long been fighting timber sales near the Rogue River, and their battle will be harder than ever now that the BLM has released its plan for Oregon's public forests: the Western Oregon Plan Revisions or WOPR (pronounced whopper). The WOPR comes out of a complex legal history and timber battles over Oregon's so-called O&C lands that date back to the 1800s. But environmental groups across Oregon have come up with a plan to "Save the Wild Rogue" by allying with businesses that rely on the Rogue and Oregon's natural resources. Both the businesses and the conservationists want to use legislation to preserve the land and river that novelist Zane Grey popularized in his novel Rogue River Feud, the river that tourists and adventurers come from all over the country to visit, raft, fish and hike.
The Rogue River
The very name "rogue" speaks of rebellion. The river gets its name from the French fur trappers who fought with various Native American tribes on the river in the 1920s. The French called the native tribes collectively "les Coquins" (the Rogues). The river thus became known as "La Rivière aux Coquins" (the Rogue River).
Zane Grey, famed for his Western, Riders of the Purple Sage immortalized the Rogue in his "Northwestern" novel, Rogue River Feud. It is a romantic tale that manages to bring together elegant descriptions of the river, efforts to stop illegal fishing operations, bad 19th century dentistry and plenty of complaints about old-growth logging. Grey also drew fishing enthusiasts to the area through works like Tales of Freshwater Fishing. The Zane Grey Roadless area is named for the author and his preserved, rustic fishing cabin sits in the heart of it. Roadless areas are just that — places where no roads have been built and thus usually not spoiled by logging and industry. The Bush administration has attempted to repeal the roadless rule in order to begin oil, gas and timber projects, but the repeal was overturned by a federal judge who found it violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). The case continues to be fought in the courts.
Grey describes the river in lyrical prose: "The dark green slopes, the darker green river, sliding, whirling, foaming around the shaded bend, the grand bronze and fern festooned cliffs … these seemed alive under the purple mantle of the lifting mist." His descriptions hold true today, but those who love the Rogue worry that if logging begins upslope from the river and its tributaries, the water will turn warm and muddy, killing off salmon as well as the tourist industry. The more than 200-mile river starts near beautiful Crater Lake and then tumbles through the Cascades, southern Oregon and the coastal mountains to its ocean outlet near Gold Beach.
About 84 miles of the river are designated "Wild and Scenic," which Joseph Vaile of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (aka KS Wild) likens to a watery national park. A Wild and Scenic designation means that a portion of the river, in this case the lower Rogue, is protected from dams and development and regulated to preserve its natural resources but kept open to public recreation such as whitewater rafting and kayaking. Some of the areas around the lower Rogue, which is almost three hours from Eugene, are currently protected from logging as a federally designated Wilderness Area. Wilderness Areas are generally protected from invasive human activities like logging or mechanized vehicles. Oregon has 40 such areas.
This may seem like a lot of protection, but it's not enough to save the river from destruction, according to KS Wild and Eugene's Cascadia Wildlands Project (CWP). Only a quarter mile strip of land on either side of the river is protected under the Wild and Scenic designation. Thanks to acts of Congress dating back to 1866 and the O&C Railroad, the nearly pristine forests just out of the river corridor and surrounding the river's tributaries are up for logging.
The phrase "O&C lands" probably never meant much to the average Oregonian until recently. Now those lands are at the center of the county timber payments debate. As Eugeneans know, county payments mean the difference between a fully funded county government and cutbacks of essential services such as law enforcement and aid for the elderly.
The O&C Land saga began in the late 1800s when Congress gave a land grant to the O&C (Oregon and California) Railroad Company to encourage completion of the railway from Portland to San Francisco. Congress deeded the railroad about 12,800 acres per mile of track laid. In the early 1900s, over 2 million acres were taken back when the railroad failed to sell portions of the land to qualified settlers as mandated by the grant.
In 1937, Congress enacted the Oregon and California Railroad and Coos Bay Wagon Road Grant Lands Act of 1937 (O&C Lands Act). This act, like the others before it focusing on the O&C lands, dealt with the distribution of timber sale revenues. The 1937 act essentially paid 75 percent of timber revenues to the O&C counties, which include Lane County as well as the counties encompassing the lower Rogue. This was later reduced to 50 percent in 1953. The O&C Act tied logging to county revenues, a tie that continues today.
After Oregon timber harvests began to slow in the late 1980s, Congress began to stabilize payments to the counties to decrease financial uncertainty. The "Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000" tried to untie the timber/county payments knot by providing direct payment to counties from the federal government. However, those payments ended in 2006, leaving county funding uncertain and some parties clamoring to ramp up logging and clearcutting once again.
During the timber wars, the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan came into being. The plan, which included the O&C lands, allowed for logging but provided for the preservation of old-growth forests (known as late-successional reserves, LSRs). However, a lawsuit filed by the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry group, removed those protections.
The 1995 lawsuit alleged that the Resource Management Plan for the Northwest Forest Plan violated the O&C Lands Act and other laws. According to the O&C Lands Act, the lands must be logged at a "sustainable yield." However, the timber industry's view of what is sustainable and "permanent forest production" is very different from what conservationists envision.
In August 2003, the secretary of the interior, the secretary of agriculture, the AFRC and the Association of O&C Counties agreed to settle the lawsuit out of court. Former Lane County Commissioner Anna Morrison was on the board of directors for the Association of O&C Counties at the time the lawsuit was settled.
In the settlement, the Bush administration agreed to have the BLM revise the management plan for the O&C lands. The BLM must consider at least one option that does away with all LSRs; the only exception would be the bare minimums to avoid violating the Endangered Species Act.
The recently released WOPR does just that. It guts the Forest Plan and turns these areas into what the CWP calls "ground-zero for old-growth logging." This is something Zane Grey would have found appalling as did his character Garry in Rogue River Feud, published less than 10 years before the 1937 O&C Act: "Our finest lumber. Lord Almighty! Can you beat thet? All fer dirty rotten money … It takes ten lifetimes for such trees to grow. It's a horrible waste. It'll dry up our rivers. Will the government do anythin'? Nix, no, never!"
Saving the Wild Rogue
If the government won't stop the logging, then who will? As readers who have followed the Biscuit Fire controversy know, environmentalists around the Rogue are more known for blockading roads and hanging from bridges than cozying up to businesses and the federal government. More than a few Eugeneans have found themselves in handcuffs while protesting the logging of the Rogue area. But now saving the river and its surrounding forest is more about handshakes than handcuffs.
The "Save the Wild Rogue" campaign is a coalition that environmental groups, rafters, anglers, businesses and various and sundry others have gotten together to try to save the wild river. The other conservation groups in addition to CWP and KS Wild include Oregon Wild, the Siskiyou Project, American Rivers and American Whitewater. There are 46 businesses involved, including nine from the Eugene-Springfield area.
Lesley Adams of KS Wild, a straightforward and upbeat self-described river lover with "a fire in my belly," has been expending seemingly limitless time and energy on the campaign, trying to save the river. According to Adams, this campaign to save the Rogue has been around in some form or another since the 1970s. It started with the Oregon Wilderness Coalition, a network of small wilderness groups around the state. The current campaign got under way in 2002 when the BLM proposed to log old growth in the area, she says.
The "Save the Wild Rogue" coalition is proposing to add almost 60,000 acres to the Wild Rogue Wilderness. They want to add almost 100 miles of Wild and Scenic designation to seven creeks that feed into the Wild and Scenic Rogue: Kelsey, Whisky, Dulog, Big Windy, East Fork Windy and Howard Creeks.
The proposal would stop the proposed Kelsey-Whisky timber sale (imaginatively named for the nearby Kelsey and Whisky creeks it would muddy). If it isn't stopped, the sale would mean the clearcutting of old-growth forest in the Zane Grey Roadless area, says wiry and energetic Josh Laughlin of Eugene's CWP. Laughlin predicts if logging is allowed, salmon-bearing streams such as Kelsey and Whisky creeks will become choked with sediment which would then wash into the Rogue, killing the salmon and turning the clear water to a murky brown flow. The WOPR, which calls for increased "regeneration harvests" (BLM-speak for clearcutting and then replanting with a tree plantation) and opens the formerly somewhat protected O&C lands to voracious logging, endangers the future health of the Wild Rogue as well as forests close to Eugene, says Laughlin.
Vaile, the campaign director for KS Wild, adds to Laughlin's comments. "Even the supposed protected areas under the WOPR are in danger," he says. "In a natural disturbance, such as wildfire or an insect outbreak, those areas would be logged." A wilderness designation is the only way to save the area for the long term. The government and the logging companies would have to "let nature takes its own course in Wilderness areas," says Vaile.
"Zane Grey would be rolling in his grave if he knew of the BLM's logging plans for the lower Rogue," says Laughlin.
The Business of Saving the River
It's really not all that remarkable to hear that a bunch of environmentalists have gotten together to save a forest or a river — after all, that's what they are supposed to do. What's impressive is when those groups are able to pull together almost 50 businesses to support the project in a short period of time. It's this possibility of harm to this river, which fishermen like Zane Grey made into a fabled angling destination, that has spurred businesses into action.
Beverly Moore, who owns and runs Rogue Forest Bed and Breakfast, manages to look at once warm and homey and, simultaneously, like the rough and tumble whitewater-rafting guide she is. Her B&B is the same, very outdoorsy but very inviting. The inn is fully booked all summer, she says, and open year-round with guests coming to raft the river from Eugene and all over the world.
"I'm not against logging," she says, "I live in a wooden house. But there's no long-term value in logging this area."
She points out that the value in the Rogue and its surrounding area lies in the rafting, fishing and tourist industries. She also says it's difficult for businesses like her own and others on the Rogue to speak out against the BLM — their livelihood depend on permits from the BLM for their river-based businesses. But it's so important to Moore and others like her that they are willing to speak up and even promote the project to their guests. The river "calls to the human spirit" she says. "When the blackberries ripen and the air smells like sugar, it's calming to see across the canyon to a peak. Nothing blocks the view. We need to have a place like this to come to."
Rich Wilkinson, proprietor of Rogue Klamath River Adventures, is another businessman willing to challenge the BLM's proposal for the river. Vaguely piratical with sunglasses covering a bandaged eye as a result of recent mountain bike wreck, Wilkinson depends on the river for his business, too. And he is also willing to put his business on the line to save the Rogue.
People come to southern Oregon for the Shakespeare Festival, music festivals and other attractions, he says, "but they've all heard of the Rogue." He takes tourists on spontaneous half-day trips as well as longer, planned out, whitewater trips down the river. He worries that logging will affect these floats because right now, "the Rogue has more wildlife than any other place. You're guaranteed to see it on the lower Rogue — we're selling that."
In addition to five runs of Pacific salmon, the Rogue and its environs host northern spotted owls and marbled murrelets. Rafters will see mergansers, river otter, osprey, black bear and, if they're lucky, a peregrine falcon or a bald eagle.
For both Wilkinson and Moore, logging is a short-sighted way to raise money. The thriving $13 million tourist industry is a better long-term bet, they say.
Like Moore, Wilkinson is passionate on the subject of the river. "I tell each one of our customers, the experience you're having today you may not have tomorrow unless you step up and contact your congressman."
Legislating the Wild Rogue
And where do Oregon's congressmen fall on the issue of the Rogue? The "Save the Wild Rogue" campaign wants legislation introduced, and the sooner the better. Sen. Gordon Smith is notorious for his support of the timber industry, but Rep. Peter DeFazio's natural resources counsel and Sen. Ron Wyden's chief of staff have ventured down to the Rogue to check it out.
Wyden's Deputy Press Secretary Alec Oveis says Wyden is currently open to both Wild and Scenic and Wilderness proposals.
DeFazio is more detailed though very cautious. He told EW he thinks it's possible the Wild and Scenic designation that would protect the Rogue's tributaries would be "more easily definable and defensible in the context of a larger bill."
He has not seen a "well-formed legislative proposal" for the wilderness area, he says, and points out that the Copper-Salmon Wilderness, which he and Wyden recently proposed, took 10 years to come about. Ironically, the proposed Copper-Salmon Wilderness is downstream of the logging the BLM proposes around the Rogue.
Of the "Save the Wild Rogue" proposal, DeFazio says, "I don't believe we're going to pop a wilderness bill full blown out of thin air."
When he met with conservationists about the wild Rogue proposal a few months ago, he told them it would take, "time, energy, effort, planning and building of local support," he says, "and very little of that has taken place."
The more than 50 Oregon businesses, sportsmen and conservation groups are undaunted by the challenge. Frank Armendariz, manager of Eugene's Oregon River Sports, has spent days on the phone, he says, promoting the proposal. The Rogue is so important to Oregon's water sports community, the owners of the shop have let him take time to work on the campaign. The shop doesn't do guided trips on the Rogue, but Armendariz says 20 to 30 percent of their weekend rental business is destined for the Rogue.
"When you stand on the bank of a river and look down it, it's almost always beautiful," says Armendariz. "Not every person gets a chance to float down the river and look back up the other direction."
If Cascadia Wildlands, KS Wild and the myriad of other groups and businesses have their way, the Rogue will always be there, wild and pristine, for everyone to float, fish and just look at the view.