I write today to give voice to the many Eastern Oregonians who support Sen. Ron Wyden’s River Democracy Act and to the nonhumans who need its protections. Our voices join those of the Nimiipuu and Umatilla peoples, who first lived here amidst abundance and diversity.
Conservationists in Eastern Oregon are often overlooked, ignored or misrepresented, and we thank Sen. Wyden for opening his doors, listening and hearing us. As reported from the June 23 U.S. Senate hearings for this bill, our support is “broad and deep” in recognizing the wisdom of 15,000 nominations by Oregonians from all walks of life.
Years ago, the Duck Valley People, whose home is along the Owyhee River in Southern Idaho and Northern Nevada, taught me a lifelong lesson: “Water for life.” In much of Eastern Oregon our nonhuman relations depend on “ribbons of life” that flow through the dry deserts and mountains. Viewed on a map or aerial photograph, extensive networks of smaller tributaries are but thin lifelines of aquatic and riparian habitat, widely separated by miles of steep rangeland.
Fisheries biologists tell us that many of the Owyhee Basin’s now-intermittent streams once flowed year-round and supported red band trout. Sadly, we can never know how many plants and animals were lost to poor land management practices that continue to this day. Happily, we can realize their healthy potential by restoring many of these damaged or lost habitats, as thousands of Oregonians are actively doing statewide.
Restoration can only be partial, however, and requires much effort and many years for success. We must, therefore, first protect those tributaries that remain healthy and intact, wherever they might be found across our great state. Such small features are often overlooked on the landscape, but in truth they are a string of pearls worthy of our protection — for ourselves and for future generations of all living things.
Please join me in thanking Sen. Wyden and the many thousands of Oregonians who contributed to the River Democracy Act and the modest protections they provide for our life-giving waters.