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Pass the wilderness bill now

Time is running out for Oregon's congressional delegation to get the U.S. Senate to pass landmark Mount Hood legislation.

After several years of meetings, research and firsthand analysis, U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland, and Greg Walden, R-Hood River, developed the Mount Hood Stewardship Legacy Act, which would add 77,500 acres to the Mount Hood wilderness area and institute a number of other mountain-area stewardship measures.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved the legislation last summer. With months to go until the end of the congressional year, Walden and Blumenauer seemed confident Oregonians would get an 'early holiday present' with passage of the act.

Then came the Senate.

Oregon's U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, and Gordon Smith, a Republican, had their own ideas about how much area should be designated wilderness - 125,000 acres.

Since then, both pairs of lawmakers have been trying to negotiate a compromise. That process has taken too long. In the past few days, Blumenauer and Walden have compromised to the point that they will 'take anything they can pass on the Senate side,' said Hilary Barbour, Blumenauer spokeswoman. But movement in the Senate remains glacial.

While it's obvious that the dynamics of Congress have changed since the election, we still believe it's important for our representatives to pass the Mount Hood Stewardship Legacy Act.

Despite a Democratic Congress taking over in January - which would most likely favor environmental legislation - this bill should pass this session, while Walden still holds a key committee post and can watchdog the proceedings. Too much work has been done to have it all start over at the beginning of the year.