Present generations, speak up for the River Democracy Act
This letter was initially published in the Roseburg News-Review on November 20, 2022. South Umpqua River Steward Bob Hoehne shares his passion for protecting and conserving the future of our Oregon rivers.
This is an open letter to United States Senator Ron Wyden:
I want to thank you, sir, for the River Democracy Act of 2021. As my good friends and mentors Frank and Jeanne Moore said in this same paper, “I am part of the River and the river is part of me.”
While we owe many thanks to previous generations of river advocates who spoke up for Oregon’s pristine rivers and the fish that live in them; it is time for present generations to speak up for the River Democracy Act and the important protections it will bring to key waters throughout our home state.
In the 1980s, community members from Roseburg asked the State of Oregon to recognize the third Saturday in July as River Appreciation Day for all the magnificent rivers in this State. With bipartisan support, this monumental day for Oregon’s rivers was passed into history in 1989 and was proclaimed by Senate Joint Resolution 32.
The resolution said in part, “Whereas rivers are one of Oregon’s most precious natural resources. Rivers are a vital resource providing the public with municipal water supplies; commerce and navigation. Rivers provide outstanding, scenic, geological, botanical, historic, archaeological, fish, wildlife, and recreation values. Whereas each Oregonian has a stewardship responsibility to care for rivers held in common ownership with all people of this state.”
Strong, clear words that express the love of our rivers and their enormous economic impact that most, if not all, Oregonians share. These words express our commitment and dedication to all of Oregon’s rivers.
Local people have put on River Appreciation Day each year around Douglas County, promoting the values of conservation, wildlife protection, recreation, fishing and the history of these natural wonders. River Appreciation Day includes Native American storytellers, singers and dancers who shared the experiences of people who relied on these rivers for thousands of years. These wonderful people included the Chokecherry Stick Singers from Chiloquin who performed a ritual of bringing a glass of water from the river to the stage, talking about the water’s values through spoken word dance. A celebration of our Umpqua River, indeed.
As a longtime fisherman and boater, rivers have played an essential role in my life. Learning about rivers and their importance has led me to volunteer for events and to work on important issues to protect and conserve our watersheds. Salmon once provided a great food source for me, my family and our entire community. Unfortunately, fish runs have declined extensively, so much so that numerous folks have given up fishing altogether. Our spring Chinook salmon on the South Umpqua is nearly extinct.
Strong steadfast advocacy has helped us achieve a lot for our rivers but clearly, it is not enough. We must continue to work on protecting these cherished resources; I ask you, Senator Wyden, to please push Congress to pass the River Democracy Act of 2021 before the end of this Congress. Most of the rivers proposed for protection are in the headwaters, located on public lands, and will have no effect on water rights or the current use of the waters.
If you believe we should protect our rivers in Oregon, please get in touch with Senators Wyden and (Jeff) Merkley and ask them to get this legislation on the president’s desk for his signature. The future generations will love you for this but we must act in the present.
Robert Hoehne is a Roseburg resident, volunteer for Umpqua Watersheds River clean-up organizer, member of the South Umpqua River Steward Native Fish Society and biological technician.