Gorge management plan inadequate, court rules

Capital Press


Oregon - A plan for managing the Columbia River Gorge violates federal protections for the 300,000-acre area, according to the Oregon Court of Appeals.

The current plan "fails to include provisions that require commercial, residential and mineral resource development to take place without adversely affecting natural resources," according to the ruling.

However, the court rejected an environmental group's argument that the plan's definition of protected natural resources was insufficiently broad.

The Friends of the Columbia Gorge has contended for several years that a management plan for the 85-mile-long canyon doesn't comply with a federal "national scenic area" designation adopted by Congress in 1986.

That plan was developed by the Columbia River Gorge Commission, an interstate agency representing six counties along the Oregon-Washington border.

The Oregon Court of Appeal has ruled that the plan only requires counties to consider the cumulative effects of proposed developments, whereas it should actually prohibit adverse impacts.

Additional language elsewhere in the plan adequately prevents negative effects on wildlife and rare plants, the ruling said.
However, provisions for streams, ponds and wetlands only require negative effects to be minimized -- not totally avoided as required by federal law, the ruling said.
The appeals court has also ordered the commission to reconsider whether dividing land into smaller parcels would endanger cultural resources, like Native American artifacts.
Capital Press was unable to reach a representative of the Columbia River Gorge Commission for comment.
Nathan Baker, attorney for the Friends of the Columbia Gorge, said the ruling was a net win for his group even though the court rejected some of its arguments.
"They agreed with us that nowhere in the plan were the adverse cumulative effects actually prohibited," he said.
The group had also claimed that the plan's definition of natural resources impermissibly excluded plants, plant habitats, air and land, which it feared would weaken environmental restrictions.
The court rejected that argument, finding that the scope of the natural resources definition was "grounded in reason and evidence."
However, the ruling made clear that other provisions in the plan which refer specifically to air, plants and land extended protections to those features, said Baker. "Our core concern is addressed."