A proposal to stop all vehicles from entering the waters of the Chetco River brought a vocal, angry and understandable reaction last week. Both the Chetco Watershed Council and the Oregon Department of State Lands need to take notice before they decide how to proceed.
On the other hand, there is no reason for those who oppose such a restriction to be verbally abusive in what can be a civil and productive discussion of public policy.
There is no question that both groups regard the Chetco River as a treasure. It flows unrestricted out of the wilderness in a geology, micro-climate and remoteness that make it unique. It is one of the reasons we all take so easily to calling the region “America’s Wild Rivers Coast.”
The divide represented by this proposal is in the perception of what harms the river or its values. This is a debate that has been going on for decades along the Chetco, arguments that have included ownership of the river bed, water intakes for the community, the effect of temperature on fish habitat, gravel extraction and more.
All of these issues need to be addressed by facts and science, not emotional reactions. That dozens of vehicles might cross the river in a day is not automatically bad; that log trucks once made dozens of crossings every trip up and down the river years ago does not necessarily make “low-water crossings” acceptable today.
What is important that the proposed rules were advanced without a river-specific base of facts and science, and without realizing that the reaction of many river users would be so adamant.
We suggest the proposed rules be tabled or withdrawn, so there can be an effort to both gather facts and then face facts.