A stalled land exchange between the U.S. Forest Service and Mt. Hood Meadows ski resort inched forward this week.
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday passed a bill launched by Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Jeff Merkley that aims to resolve the decades-long tussle over development on the mountain’s northeast slope.
Wyden and Merkley’s bill would allow commercial development by Meadows on 107 acres on the south side of the mountain near Government Camp, while protecting 770 acres on Cooper Spur as public forest land.
That land swap, congressionally mandated six years ago, has been in limbo.
To put more pressure on the parties to reach an agreement, Wyden and Merkley introduced “Mt. Hood-Cooper Spur Land Exchange Clarification Act.” Specifically, the bill seeks to amend the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 to reflect more concrete deadlines in the trade and settle agreements over the respective land parcels’ values.
Once introduced, U.S. legislators pushed the bill forward. In November, the “Clarification Act” passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The House’s Natural Resources Committee in February held a hearing on a similar “companion” version of the bill volleyed by U.S. Rep Greg Walden.
This week, the Senate passed the Cooper Spur “Clarification Act” along with a package of other amendments in a broad energy bill.
Wyden lauded that decision as “the beginning of the end for this years-long holdup on Mount Hood.
“The completion of this land exchange will protect the pristine lands on the northeast side of the mountain for wildlife and the environment and allow responsible development on the south side for visitors to enjoy,” Wyden said in a statement.
Merkley argued the land trade would also give an economic boost for the region.
“When we can enhance the wilderness areas and create new economic opportunities, everybody wins,” Merkley said.
At a Hood River County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday, County Legal Counsel Will Carey described the Senate’s approval of the Clarification Act as a “step forward,” but one amid other options the county and other groups are taking to spur the deal.
Last summer, Hood River joined Clackamas County in a lawsuit by Hood River Valley Residents Committee against the Forest Service, and the suit hasn’t been settled.
Another aspect of Cooper Spur’s future is the nearly 3,000-acre “Polallie-Cooper” thinning project the Forest Service plans to take on. A fuels reduction strategy intended to reduce fire risks in the northeast Mount Hood National Forest, the project has drawn controversy from environmental and land use groups due to the scale of the logging and the potential impacts on forest roads used by bikers and hikers.
Wyden and Rep. Earl Blumenauer have weighed in, urging the Forest Service in a March 7 letter to hold off on the thinning project because they said it clashes with the 2009 federal act that protected Cooper Spur from certain road building and logging work.
In February, the Forest Service announced plans to draft an environmental impact statement for the land trade. The agency expects to release that study this fall.