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Wilderness plan is still improving

Double bi-partisan effort may yet pay off with a strong package for Mount Hood

Oregonians want additional wilderness protection in the Mount Hood National Forest. And within reason, most people would say the more wilderness the better.

U.S. Sens. Gordon Smith, a Republican, and Ron Wyden, a Democrat, are obliging their constituents' wishes by improving upon legislation that the U.S. House of Representatives passed in July. That bill, introduced by U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat, and Greg Walden, a Republican, designates 77,000 acres of new wilderness in the Mount Hood National Forest.

The Smith-Wyden package, by contrast, would provide more than 125,000 acres of new wilderness within the forest. Even at that, the additional wilderness falls short of what environmental groups might desire.

However, the wilderness decision isn't just a matter of numbers, and this legislation isn't solely about wilderness. The goal ought to be to protect the most sensitive and scenic areas while maintaining a balance of uses in the forest. The beauty of both the original Walden-Blumenauer bill and the revised Wyden-Smith legislation is their bi-partisan approach. By considering all points of view, Walden and Blumenauer were able to accomplish a politically difficult task - getting the U.S. House of Representatives to approve any new wilderness at all.

Now, the U.S. Senate can improve on that legislation, and the final compromise will come if and when the two bills are reconciled by a House-Senate conference committee.

Oregonians have waited more than 20 years for new wilderness near Mount Hood. During that time, the metro area has experienced rapid population growth and increasing demands for recreation, drinking water and economic opportunities.

All those needs are addressed in the Mount Hood legislative packages. And the Oregon congressional delegation's cooperative work may yet pay off with a law that protects both wilderness and thoughtful forest uses.