If letter-writer George Burns (HCN, 6/9/97) wants to have the whole west rim of Hells Canyon open to him and his buddies in their trucks, he ought to just say so. Even though we still wouldn't agree, those of us who desperately cling to the last 12 miles of nonmotorized rim could respect that. But apparently due to the absence of good support for his cause of adding another six or seven miles of the rim to the 38 miles he and his truck already have, he has misrepresented some important issues:
* There is no language in the act of law that created the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area that even remotely implies an intent, as he says, "for all existing rim roads and viewpoints to remain open." It most certainly didn't say that people should be able to drive motor vehicles to viewpoints within the wilderness area.
* If the inclusion of the "primitive one-lane dirt road" within the wilderness area is a "mapping error," then Congress made the same blunder twice. After the Hells Canyon Wilderness was designated in 1975, controversy boiled over the exact location of the boundary in no uncertain terms. At that time Congress drew the road within the boundary as it had many other primitive roads now within the Hells Canyon Wilderness. There is absolutely no evidence which indicates the inclusion of this road within the wilderness was an error.
* Dr. Burns is flat wrong when he says that "elk numbers are actually increasing over all of this area." According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, elk herds are diminished both in numbers and gender ratios, and one of the primary causes is the proliferation of roads.
* The statement that "Virtually everyone in this area shares the view that the rim road should be re-opened," could only be substantiated if Dr. Burns considers "everyone" to mean everyone who agrees with him. The local opposition to the road being opened is more diverse and abundant than for any other natural resource issue I can remember in my 20 years here. It includes the Nez Perce Tribe, local ranchers, local hunters, conservationists, wildlife biologists, even a locally based company that runs motorized tours along the rim! Public opinion surveys consistently show an overwhelming majority in opposition to more roads and motorized recreation in the Hells Canyon area.
The terms "distorted and prejudiced" that Burns uses certainly do not apply to Scott Stouder's story. Your readers deserve accuracy, even in letters to the editor.
Ric Bailey is executive director of the Hells Canyon Preservation Council.
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