After months of considering whether to support the creation of a Badlands Wilderness about 20 miles east of Bend, Ore., the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners voted 3-0 in late March to do nothing, effectively leaving the proposal in limbo.
It could have been worse, says commission chair Tom
DeWolf. "They can take solace in the fact we didn't vote to oppose
the wilderness." DeWolf supports protecting the 37,000 acres of
gnarled volcanic landscape as federal wilderness. But he says he
reluctantly joined in the board's "no position" vote, since he and
his colleagues didn't agree, and two votes were needed for action
on the proposal.
Local citizens like the idea: a poll
commissioned by the Oregon Natural Desert Association in February
found that 69 percent of Deschutes County voters support wilderness
designation. Hundreds testified at a hearing in late January, and
most backed wilderness; three-quarters of the 1,572 cards and
letters submitted to the commission were in support. Even the local
mountain-biking organization supports the proposal, although bikes
aren't allowed in wilderness areas (HCN, 6/7/04: Mountain bikers go
wild). The wilderness opponents are led by off-road vehicle users.
Oregon's congressional delegation is reluctant to
introduce a wilderness bill without the backing of local
politicians. A spokesman for Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., says his boss
won't do so without local political support. Second District Rep.
Greg Walden, R, says the commission vote "tells me there's a lack
of consensus either for or against this legislation."
the meantime, the Badlands has temporary protection as a wilderness
study area. The BLM management plan that was implemented this
spring closed Route 8, a dirt road running through the heart of the
Badlands, to all vehicles. Bill Marlett, executive director of the
Oregon Natural Desert Association, says he's heartened by the way
the area is now managed. Still, he's disappointed by the county
commissioners' lack of action: "We pitched them a softball," he
says, "and they whiffed."