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Stop stalling on Mt. Hood wilderness bill

Time is running out for Oregon's Congressional delegation to get the U.S. Senate to pass landmark legislation protecting key recreation sites and natural habitat on Mt. Hood.

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.

The Act - which would add 77,500 acres to the Mount Hood wilderness protection area and institute a number of stewardship measures - easily passed in the U.S. House of Representatives this summer. Then came the Senate.

Oregon's U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, and Gordon Smith, a Republican, wanted a larger area to be designated wilderness - 125,000 acres.

Since then, both pairs of lawmakers have been trying to negotiate a compromise bill. That process has dragged on too long. Senators should have been ready for the House bill and begun negotiations long before Sept. 27, when they finally introduced their own version.

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

Blumenauer and Walden have done the legwork on this and have been willing to compromise. But the Senate continues its glacial pace. The wilderness acreage shouldn't be what's holding this important legislation back. If the Walden/Blumenauer bill were to pass, it would be the largest designation of wilderness area on the mountain in more than 20 years.

If Wyden and Smith are set on adding more, they can come back with their own plan later, after passing a compromise bill now.