Sen. Ron Wyden deserves a big thank you for initiating and guiding the River Democracy Act through the winding channels towards congressional approval. As this drought and fire year has made so clear, protecting our watersheds is fundamental to countering the effects of climate change and preserving and enhancing the capacity of our landscapes to absorb, hold and release water and resist fire.
Several streams I (and others) nominated are included in the act. I had hoped even more watersheds would be protected, but from tiny acorns mighty oaks grow, hey? As drought and fire persist into the future and the indispensability of even small waterways becomes ever more evident and protections ever more prevalent, perhaps more private landowners will see the advantages to themselves and their neighbors.
The act, however, leaves too much scope for irresponsible logging by accommodating commercial sales under the aegis of fire prevention. Too often the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management reveal their bias toward commercial harvest over ecological recovery by cutting large trees and fire-resistant stands that have more environmental than commercial value. Long-term ecological values are subordinated to short-term local economic gain. This needs to change.
The same concern applies to overgrazing livestock in riparian zones. Many small- and medium-sized streams are severely degraded by 125 years of cattle grazing. That's why more and more streams are being enclosed by barbed wire, to keep cows out. It would help if the act recognized this fact and made some practical gesture to address this particular issue.
Despite the criticisms above, I, like so many Oregonians, am thankful to Sen. Wyden for the River Democracy Act.