Marine Board Misses Its Chance to Reverse Decades of Exclusion

Posted on April 12, 2012 by

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It’s hard to imagine it now, but the high water mark for inclusiveness in the use of Oregon’s natural beauty came in 1967, with the adoption of the Oregon Beach Bill. Championed by Republican Governor Tom McCall and embraced by a Republican-controlled House, the Beach Bill historically opened the entire stretch of Oregon’s Pacific Ocean beachfront to all Oregonians. Although the beaches are as open as ever, the rest of Oregon’s natural beauty is more off-limits today then ever before.

Our state has now endured more than 4 decades of efforts by environmental groups and their willing accomplices in State and Federal agencies, to lock Oregon’s natural areas away from the vast majority of people, and reserve them for the use of a privileged few. Access for Oregonians to their own forest lands, lakes and rivers, rangeland and other natural recreation opportunities has been systematically limited. Even the Pacific Ocean itself is being locked away in “Marine Reserves.” Ironically, the Ocean is now less accessible to Oregonians then the beaches it endlessly caresses.

In the latest ill-considered shut-down, the Oregon Marine Board voted on April 10 to permanently close Waldo Lake in the Cascade Mountains east of Eugene to boats with gasoline motors. Waldo Lake – described by environmental groups as “pristine,” “one of a kind” “the last remaining” and other superlatives they use to describe every natural area they wish to close off from the prying eyes of the unwashed – is now reserved only to those who wish to kayak, canoe or use non-motorized sailboats or small electric motors. The majority of Oregonians who enjoy being out on the water – the 171,000 who own motor boats – are officially excluded from Waldo Lake by government fiat. Those excluded include disabled Oregonians who enjoy boating.

Leaving aside for the moment that the Marine Board’s action is very likely illegal (they were warned at an April 10 public hearing that State statute prohibits the very action they took), the closure of Waldo Lake is another example of the exclusionary policies being pursued by government agencies. Whether it is ATV’s on National Forests, wakeboarding in the Holgate Channel, fishing on the Pacific or motors on Waldo Lake, access to Oregon’s natural beauty is being severely limited by government actions.

The Marine Board and other agencies fly in the face of the ethos of this great State. Imagine if the Beach Bill – instead of welcoming everyone – had provided access only to a small number of Oregonians while excluding everyone else. The Marine Board – with closures of Waldo Lake, the Holgate Channel and other actions – is now developing a reputation for setting aside exclusive conclaves on the water for a supposed elite class of watercraft users.

And make no mistake, the beneficiaries of these policies are the 1 percent. At the April 10 hearing, a wealthy dentist from Medford testified he closed his lucrative practice for the afternoon so he could drive to Springfield to urge Waldo Lake be closed to motors so he could spend additional hundreds of dollars to travel to Waldo and enjoy the solitude in his expensive kayak. His demeanor was indistinguishable from that of a British aristocrat.

For too long, Oregon’s government agencies have been functioning as institutions of exclusion. Oregon’s natural beauty should be open to all Oregonians, rather then turned into the exclusive playground of the wealthy.

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