By Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2021

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Oregon’s U.S. senators have proposed a conservation package that would protect thousands of miles of the state’s rivers from development.

Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley on Wednesday announced the River Democracy Act of 2021, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported. It would add nearly 4,700 miles (7,564 kilometers) of Oregon rivers and streams to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system.

The bill would almost triple the number of river miles with Wild and Scenic protections in Oregon and includes waterways in most of the state. It would also expand the amount of land protected in Wild and Scenic River corridors from a quarter-mile on both sides of the river to a half-mile.

It amounts to one of the biggest public lands conservation proposals in state history.

“I was completely blown away by the number of miles included,” said Gena Goodman-Campbell, who directs the stewardship program for the Oregon Natural Desert Association.

The bill aims to boost recreation, protect water quality and wildlife, safeguard cultural resources and foods, and mitigate wildfire risk. It comes following a public process spanning years in which Oregonians nominated waters for protection.

“Oregonians made it loud and clear: they cherish Oregon’s rivers and want them protected for generations to come,” Wyden said in a press release. “More protected rivers and clear management objectives means more jobs, improved wildfire resiliency and a guarantee for the livability of Oregon.”

The senators’ proposal drew praise from conservationists, outdoor recreationists, public officials and others.

Congress approved the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968. The law outlines three designations for protection - wild, scenic and recreational.

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