The latest Central Oregon wilderness lands bill took a step forward today clearing Sen. Ron Wyden's public lands subcommittee in a development that could set the stage for another wilderness showdown with Sen. Tom Coburn, aka Dr. No, the Nebraska Oklahoma Republican who held previously held up the Badlands designation and has thrown up procedural roadblocks on all wilderness bills over what he says are unfunded costs, but look to us just like more petty partisanship.
The Cathedral Rock/Horse Heaven Wilderness would create a pair of new federally designated wilderness areas along and adjacent to the John Day River, opening up thousands of acres of new lands to the public while moving other public parcels into the hands of private landowners. The move, if successful, would address the historic "checkerboard" ownership patterns in the John Day area where public and private lands are often intermingled, leading to conflicts between users, notably hunters who reportedly sometimes stray from public lands onto private parcels including a Christian youth ranch located on the former Rajneesh Purim outside the tiny town of Antelope.
In all, about 16,000 acres would be included in the new wilderness area, including 9,000 acres along and immediately adjacent to the John Day River, which although accessible only by the river would open up additional camping and hiking options for boaters along the popular stretch of river.
While it's unlikely the proposal will come up for a vote of the full Senate because of Coburn's parliamentary maneuvering, it is likely to join other pending wilderness legislation in a yet-to-be-introduced omnibus public lands bill similar to the one that passed with the Badlands and Spring Basin wilderness areas.
"There's a couple of things that have happened in the last year that are building momentum for that (omnibus) package," said Aaron Kilgore, the wilderness coordinator for Oregon Natural Desert Association, the Bend-based conservation organization that helped broker the deal with the BLM and adjacent private landowners, including Bend's Bill Smith, of Old Mill fame, whose family owns a large ranch on the John Day.