The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has identified portions of the middle and upper Rogue River as being suitable for designation under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, but BLM officials say that, contrary to some reports, there is no active push to seek the designation.
On Wednesday, the Josephine County Board of Commissioners voted to oppose "a plan" to designate 63 additional miles of the river, between Lost Creek Dam and the confluence of the Rogue and Applegate Rivers, as Wild and Scenic. A local radio talk show picked up the topic this week and the Medford BLM office received numerous calls and visits from concerned property owners along the river.
Don Ferguson, spokesman for the BLM's Medford District, said that while he understood the concerns, they were greatly exaggerated.
Ferguson said portions of that stretch of the Rogue River were included in a report on Oregon rivers that could be eligible for the designation. There is, however, no "plan" seeking the status and any such proposal would not come from the BLM, as Wild and Scenic designations are made through congressional legislative action.
"Usually how that happens is some conservation group makes a proposal and advocates for it and years later it comes out as legislation," Ferguson said, adding that he was not aware of any legislation currently being worked on that would affect that portion of the river.
Ferguson said that after the Josephine County commissioners' vote and the ensuing radio program, he met with several river property owners to explain there's no plan in the works.
He said the property owners were concerned a Wild and Scenic designation would lead to restrictions on the property and even eminent domain takings by the federal government.
"I don't know when that has ever happened," he said of eminent domain action as part of a Wild and Scenic designation. "People shouldn't feel threatened by it."
A story in the Grants Pass Daily Courier said Josephine County Commissioners took action after County Legal Counsel Wally Hicks told them that under the proposed plan, the federal Bureau of Land Management would empower the state to administer rules regarding property use along the Rogue River.
"It very likely is going to constrict land owners," Hicks said.
Commissioner Cherryl Walker said the county has a strong interest in maintaining some control over river access because of parks and boat ramps that the county operates. The plan could cripple the county's ability to expand and upgrade property along the river, she said.
Walker also cited several existing laws that protect the Rogue River.
"There are a lot of regulations already on that river," Walker said.
The portion of the Rogue River from the mouth of the Applegate River downstream from Grants Pass to the Lobster Creek Bridge is already included in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system. That stretch of the Rogue was one of the original rivers in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968.
The Wild and Scenic issue came up as county officials throughout western Oregon are voicing concern about the BLM's proposed Resource Management Plan, which would affect timber harvest levels as well as mining.
The plan, which is also opposed by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., is estimated to provide only about 27 percent of the historical average in timber receipts for counties, which for decades relied on timber harvest receipts to fund much of their operations.
Timber receipts on former Oregon and California Railroad land and the subsidies to replace them have both dwindled over the years, causing counties such as Josephine and Curry to struggle with funding for public safety and other services.
Reach Mail Tribune editor Bob Hunter at 541-776-4460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.