WASHINGTON &

A plan to expand the Mount Hood wilderness area cleared a Senate committee Wednesday and could be taken up by the full Senate in September.




The bill by Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith would extend wilderness protection to about 125,000 acres surrounding Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge. It would increase existing wilderness protection on the mountain by nearly two-thirds and add "wild and scenic" protection to about 80 miles of rivers.




Wyden and Smith called the voice vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee a victory for Oregonians.




"It's a new day for wilderness and we are now poised to pass the protection that Mount Hood deserves," said Wyden, a Democrat.




"A successful climb is measured by a successful return," added Smith, a Republican. "The Oregon delegation has worked together to meet the goal of preserving the lands and waters of Mount Hood. Let's keep forging ahead to the summit and bring this effort home together."




The Senate committee acted after Wyden and Smith reached a compromise with the Bush administration over a proposed land swap included in the bill.




Owners of the Mt. Hood Meadows ski area want the U.S. Forest Service to swap 120 acres suitable for residential development next to the mountain community of Government Camp for about 770 acres on the mountain's northeast shoulder.




The Bush administration had called that problematic, saying the lands the government would receive in exchange for its 120 acres are heavily fragmented with roads and subdivisions and "do not have national forest characteristics."




The administration also had expressed concern about an appraisal of the property done for a previous Mount Hood bill.




But under a compromise reached in recent weeks, the Forest Service would complete the land exchange with the ski resort, after a new appraisal of the site is conducted. An appraisal would be required within 16 months of the bill's enactment, said Josh Kardon, Wyden's chief of staff.




"We've had many discussions with the administration. We believe we have made enough changes to address their most significant concerns," Kardon said.




Wyden and Smith also introduced a bill last year to expand the Mount Hood wilderness, but the plan was never voted on by the full Senate. The House passed a smaller wilderness bill that also died. This year, House members from Oregon said they are waiting for the Senate to act before introducing their own bill.




The bill is S. 647.




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