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Merkley reintroduces Sutton Mtn.-Painted Hills wilderness bill


Update: Adding info on change from earlier legislation)

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., on Wednesday introduced the Sutton Mountain and Painted Hills Area Preservation and Economic Enhancement Act, legislation to create federal wilderness in the area of Sutton Mountain and the iconic Painted Hills and to promote economic development in the surrounding area.

It’s not the first such effort by Merkley, who also introduced legislation four years ago, in May of 2015.

Merkley said the proposal, which was developed in close collaboration with the Wheeler County community, would create new economic opportunities and designate cherished public land in Oregon as wilderness to protect it for future generations.

“With this legislation, we’ll make sure that future generations will be able to experience some of Oregon’s most incredible landmarks — while also creating jobs and economic opportunities in the county now,” Merkley said. “I thank local community members for their impressive work in developing this proposal, and I will continue to do everything I can to be a strong federal partner and put these plans into action.”

By creating new wilderness areas around Sutton Mountain and the iconic Painted Hills, the senator said the legislation ensures their preservation for decades, and would put these incredible destinations more prominently “on the map” for outdoors lovers in Oregon and across America.

Additionally, he said, the legislation will empower the surrounding region to create jobs and grow the local economy by providing 2,000 acres of land for the City of Mitchell to pursue economic development projects that will help attract and host more visitors.

The types of projects under consideration for that land — such as an RV park, search and rescue training facilities or an airstrip — will help make the region a more attractive and accommodating destination for travelers, who in turn will spend money in the local communities and help boost local business, Merkley said.

An aide to Merkley said the only change to the legislation from four years ago is that the land conveyance would go to the city of Mitchell instead of to Wheeler County. “The city wanted the land to pursue economic development projects, and the county was happy to have them take it,” said State Communications Director Sara Hottman.

“In Mitchell, we’ve seen how protected places like the Painted Hills can help the economy through visitation, and we believe Sutton Mountain Wilderness can do the same,” said fifth-generation Mitchellite Robert Cannon, who co-owns the Tiger Town Brewery on property passed down from his grandfather.

“Our community has worked for years to develop a vision for how the proposal to protect Sutton Mountain and convey the Golden Triangle to the City of Mitchell will improve our economic future,” said Sutton Mountain working group member and local landowner Bob Mair. “With Senator Merkley’s leadership, we are one step closer to realizing this dream.”

“I applaud Senator Merkley’s leadership to create important opportunities for the City of Mitchell by reintroducing legislation to protect Sutton Mountain and convey the Golden Triangle to the city,” said Mitchell City Councilor Patty Verbovanic.

The legislation would designate roughly 58,000 acres of wilderness on four new tracts in Wheeler County independently known as Sutton Mountain, Pat’s Cabin, Painted Hills, and Dead Dog. These tracts of public land would provide recreational access and views to Sutton Mountain, the Painted Hills and John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, and additionally connect to the Wild and Scenic John Day River.

“These new wilderness areas will offer extensive recreation opportunities, such as day hikes, backpacking trips, river floats, horseback rides, fishing, and hunting, expanding the local recreation and tourism economy,” Merkley’s office said in a news release. “They also encompass a diversity of habitat types including grasslands, riparian areas, sagebrush shrub steppe, woodlands, and forests.”

Merkley’s announcement said the legislation is supported by local governments, communities and stakeholders, including:

The City of Mitchell Redmond Chapter of Oregon Hunters Association Oregon Natural Desert Association Central Oregon Flyfishers Lower Columbia Canoe Club Audubon Society of Portland Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club Pew Charitable Trusts

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