The Columbia River Gorge is a national treasure for all people, and a unique and vital ecosystem that deserves the strongest and most vigorous protections possible. The entire Pacific Northwest has a vested interest in preserving the National Scenic Area for the health of our communities and environment.

The Columbia River Gorge Commission is in charge of managing this resource and is required to periodically update its Management Plan.

This document contains land use rules that protect the scenic, natural cultural, and recreational resources of the Gorge (often called the SNCRs). The document also encompasses policies to support the economy, inside urban area boundaries, of the 13 cities of the Gorge.

The process to update the plan was launched by the Gorge Commission four years ago. Numerous public and professional meetings have been held to gather input and ideas for the new plan.

Public comment ended in June and on Aug. 11-12, the commission will examine all comments submitted on the proposed plan and make final edits.

In September, the commission will adopt the final revised Management Plan.

Most of the resource protection provisions of the current plan (adopted in 1991) are based on inventories, science, and policies that are more than 25 years old. For example, stream buffers on private lands are inadequate for providing protection of critical habitat for endangered salmon.

Cold water refuge habitat is critically important for the survival of endangered Columbia River salmon stocks. Increased stream buffers are included in the draft plan.

The plan does require the preparation of a Climate Action Plan, but places no timeline or deadline for its completion. A one-year deadline should be required for completion of the Climate Action Plan and needs to include consultation with the tribes and involve the public.

One improvement in the plan is to place strict limits on urban sprawl in the 13 designated urban areas in the National Scenic Area.

While there is currently a large surplus of land set aside for urban development, some local governments, including The Dalles, oppose provisions of the National Scenic Area Act and the move to prevent large urban expansions.

This is despite the fact that The Dalles has enough land available for residential development to last for several decades. In addition, there are thousands of acres across the river in Dallesport zoned for industrial development and job creation that are vacant or under-utilized.

The Dalles co-owns 950 acres, including a business park, at the Columbia Gorge Regional Airport in Dallesport and for years has been a leader in regional planning with Klickitat County, Wash.

Growing within existing urban boundaries protects the Gorge, is smart, cost-effective and climate-friendly.

Since the 1986 passage of the landmark National Scenic Area legislation, the Gorge has been evolving and responding to change and development.

The new Management Plan will increase protection and strengthen laws designed to preserve the National Scenic Area for the coming 10 years, when the next set of revisions to the Plan will be due.

John Nelson lives in The Dalles.

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