THE BLOG

Sen. Hatfield's Legacy to Three Friends

02/19/2015 03:58 pm ET | Updated Apr 21, 2015

Excerpt from Inside Out:

Finally, a round of traditional spirits properly poured, raising our level of civility as the temp drops from rain to snow.

"You know it was Senator Hatfield who pushed this through?"

"The Grandee Ronde?"

"Ya, he did most of the Wild and Scenic Designations in Oregon. Long before it was popular."

"What opposition did he face?" I asked, knee-jerk response of the politician in me.

"Mostly his own party. They'd say he was going to lock it up, let it burn, stop all hunting, kill western heritage and destroy private property rights. You know, the same stuff they always say before something is protected."

The landmark Oregon Omnibus National Wild and Scenic River Act of 1988 was passed in the heat of the spotted owl debate. Senator Hatfield, having once floated the Rogue, falling in love with the wild and natural stretches of the lower river, weighed the effects of protecting natural waterways with the risks of development. The no-holds-barred, "If you're gonna do it, do it right" ethic of Senator Hatfield's office created the national model for rivers, which we now are floating. The historical bullet points of his accomplishment are easy to recite, but the stand-alone leadership his stance required, which many have forgotten, deserves the credit. Imagine the diplomacy, the finesse of a Republican who worked simultaneously to save timber jobs and prevent riverbanks from being logged. Many cried fouled, others charged hypocrisy, some conservatives said "not Republican enough," while liberals claimed "not environmental enough," all of which makes you wonder why in the world a powerful U.S. Senator would put himself out there like that?

The controversies reached an alarming pitch. Many private property advocates got national special interest money behind them to promote the false impression this was a power grab by the Forest Service to take over private property rights. So much so that three of Oregon's rivers -- the John Day, The Alsea and the Nestucca -- were left out of the measure.

Even if there were a thread of truth to any of those claims, and for the sake of argument, let's say there was, nevertheless, Hatfield crafted a compromise creating three levels of restrictions: Recreational rivers are the least restrictive, followed by the Scenic category, and then the largely roadless, Wild designation. This Act remains the largest river protection legislation in the nation's history, adding forty Oregon Rivers, totaling 1,500 river miles, to the National Wild and Scenic River system.

Twenty-five years later, we are floating on a Grande Ronde Wild and Scenic section, and I have to admire someone who loved rivers enough to protect this place while promising not to satisfy anyone. Doing the right thing for the right reasons in 1988 was every inch as difficult as trying to reach an accord today. "All these years later, every fear was unfounded, and this place is part of the economy of Wallow County," Landrover concludes, smiling proudly. That statement hit the rest of us like a tranquilizer dart, and we all sat quiet for a while, sipping and thinking and giving thanks. Because we know we are doing what most people can only dream about.

For more on inside out go to jasonaatkinson.com.