An effort to expand the size of the Oregon Caves National Monument nearly tenfold cleared another hurdle late Wednesday when the U.S. Senate passed a bill that supporters say will enhance protections to the area.
The Senate unanimously passed the Oregon Caves Revitalization Act, sending it to the House of Representatives for consideration.
The bill would transfer management of more than 4,000 acres of Forest Service land around the monument to the National Park Service, which manages the Oregon Caves. The addition would include the entire Cave Creek watershed.
The move would add protection to the lands because logging and other operations allowed on Forest Service lands are banned on park service holdings, but it would preserve recreational access to hunters and others.
The bill was introduced jointly by Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, two Oregon Democrats who together tout the legislation as a way to preserve the monument, improve forest health and boost the local economy.
"The park service has more funding to keep up with forest restoration than the Forest Service has," Wyden spokesman Keith Chu said.
Chu said the bill has broad local support in Josephine County and should find more favor in Congress, which considered but did not pass a similar bill in 2009.
Congress already has passed two wilderness bills so far this session, which is two more than the previous session.
"It looks like there's some momentum to get some of this done," Chu said.
The current monument covers 488 acres, including the marble cave, in southwestern Josephine County, about 20 miles east of Cave Junction near the California border.
The bill also calls for scenic river designation under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to the River Styx that travels through the caves. If adopted, it would be the nation's first such distinction for an underground waterway.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at email@example.com.