A Wild and Scenic Underground River In Southern Oregon? | KUOW News and Information

A Wild and Scenic Underground River In Southern Oregon?

May 21, 2014
Originally published on May 20, 2014 2:14 pm

A proposed expansion of Oregon Caves National Monument would make the River Styx the nation’s first underground river to receive Wild and Scenic status.

The River Styx flows through the main cave system of the national monument in Southern Oregon. The water drains into the Illinois River before joining the Rogue River.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., pushed for such a designation during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on Tuesday.

DeFazio noted previous failed attempts to expand the monument (1939, 1949, 1999) — before as much was known of its environmental importance.

“We now understand the extent of the caves, we understand the watershed that feeds the unique River Styx, which I invite people to visit,” Defazio said.

DeFazio's proposal involves a land transfer of 4,070 acres from the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest to the National Park Service.

DeFazio aide Travis Joseph said the idea is to have a single entity managing the watershed and bringing additional federal monies into the monument.

Joseph said the expected benefits include better stream protections, more active forest management and the construction of a trail system.

In his committee testimony, DeFazio added that “it would certainly benefit the caves, the water quality, and give an opportunity for some recreational experience.”

A similar push is underway in the Senate, where the Energy and Natural Resources Committee has approved legislation expanding the national monument.

Christine Perala Gardiner is one of dozens of the Josephine County residents that wrote letters in support of the expansion.

Gardiner is co-owner of Siskiyou Alpaca in Josephine County. She formerly taught watershed science at Portland State University.

“Both the quality and the quantity of waters supplied by headwater streams, like the River Styx, really deserve our protection,” she said. “There is so much more worthy of national recognition and conservation.”

Still, not everyone is supportive, including elected commissioners for Josephine County, where the monument is located. They passed a county resolution opposing the national monument expansion.

In the resolution, the commissioners wrote “the Board has determined that the additional contribution required of the County and its residents would have a detrimental effect upon tourism, fire resiliency, multiple use, and economy of Josephine County.”

The commissioners argue that expanding the monument would actually restrict forest management and lead to further wildfire and disease.

Proponents of the expansion say the National Park Service could provide more money and resources, meaning a better-managed forest more resilient to wildfire threats.

The next steps in Congress would be a vote in the House Natural Resources Committee and floor votes in both chambers.

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