The gorge has been given away

  I was appalled to read your recent puff piece about the Bea-Lang house being constructed in a critical place in my home, the Columbia River Gorge (HCN, 2/15/99). Your supposedly objective article claims "a big house slipped through" protections enacted by Congress in 1986. Nonsense. This monstrosity is not an anomaly but the norm - just as I predicted would occur when the so-called "Friends' of the Columbia Gorge were formed by then-Sen. Mark "Mr. Salvage Rider" Hatfield and bankrolled by the likes of Weyerhaeuser and PacifiCorp. That destroyed the then-thriving environmental movement in the Gorge so corporate interests could prevent the Gorge getting the type of National Park System protection given all similar landscapes - nationally significant places adjacent to urban centers.

Since the establishment of the national scenic area managed by the U.S. Forest Service and a weak commission, more than 500 other trophy houses have "slipped through" and been built in the supposedly protected rural parts of the Columbia Gorge. The majority of the private forests have also been clear-cut.

These obscene degradations in a scenic wonder that John Muir compared favorably with his beloved Yosemite were approved not only by the Columbia Gorge Commission, but also by the "Friends' of the Gorge legitimized and promoted by your article. The very fact that we are even debating building new houses directly across the Columbia from the area's premier natural gem, Multnomah Falls, the second tallest waterfall in the country, proves that the 1986 legislation was a hoax.

In a nice feature, High Country News once described me as a hopeful optimist (HCN, 4/22/91). No more. Not only is Columbia Gorge protection now completely hopeless, but I and the other local activists who began the gorge-protection campaign have been ruthlessly forced out of politics by the same elitists claiming to be our best friends. The "Friends' and Sierra Club staff accomplished what right-wing, anti-preservation groups had not been able to do, even with death threats: Force me out of mainstream politics. Even though I began the campaign for a Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area and was the national parks expert for Friends of the Earth at the time, I have never once been allowed to meet with the board of the misnamed "Friends' of the Gorge. Plus, our wealthy "Friends' got me and all other local activists (and any mention of the logical National Park System alternative) totally banned from the monopoly Oregonian ever since that paper bought and put out of business its competitor, the Oregon Journal, which supported our position and gave us equal time with our "Friends."

I'm Cascade Indian, and my father's great-grandfather was the head chief of the western gorge - until he was hanged by then-Lt. Phil Sheridan and the U.S. Army. My ancestral home is the first National Park System-caliber landscape in the country being destroyed because of wealthy urbanites pretending to be environmentalists. This sellout by supposed environmental groups in exchange for corporate funding is, unfortunately, no longer an anomaly, either, but rather is becoming the norm for a new environmental movement I'm coming to loathe.

Chuck Williams

The Dalles, Oregon

High Country News Classifieds