Larry and Rhett go to DC (and survive!)

By Larry Pennington, Oregon Chapter Chair

On September 14 to 17, Rhett Lawrence (our Conservation Director) and I traveled to our nation’s capital to participate in Wilderness Week, an annual lobbying effort jointly sponsored by the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Pew Charitable Trusts. The focus this year, of course, was celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, signed into law by President Johnson on September 3rd in 1964.

Larry Pennington at the U.S. Capitol

Larry Pennington at the U.S. Capitol

Our first day was a lobbying training conducted at the Pew offices, featuring distinguished speakers from Pew, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and several other conservation non-profits. We also heard from Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and senior staff from the U.S. Forest Service, BLM, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the National Park Service.

The second and third days were dedicated to meeting with the Oregon Congressional delegation and their staffs to promote conservation and environmental issues in Oregon. Several other Oregon conservation organizations joined us for some of the meetings, such as the Pew Charitable Trusts, Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), Oregon Wild, KS Wild, American Rivers, the Geos Institute, and longtime wilderness advocate Andy Kerr.

We were privileged to meet with staff members for all five U.S. Representatives and both Senators, as well as with Senator Jeff Merkley himself. Rhett and I focused on the Keep Waldo Wild campaign and the Owyhee Canyonlands at all our meetings. Getting a universally positive response to our Waldo conservation campaign – though most of the Congressional delegation had never learned of it before – was most gratifying!

The most enthusiastic responses came from the staff members for Sen. Merkley, Sen. Wyden, and Rep. DeFazio. All posed some tough, probing questions and asked for more information – a good sign, we think. Our cause was helped by recent trips to Waldo Lake by two of Sen. Merkley’s staff and one of Rep. DeFazio’s staff, all of whom were instant converts to keeping Waldo wild. When Sen. Merkley said he wanted to visit Waldo as soon as he could fit it in (there’s an election soon, you know), ear-to-ear smiles broke out on our faces! Jumping on the bandwagon, other Merkley staff members also expressed a desire to tour the gem of the High Cascades.

For the Owyhee, Rhett and I worked in tandem with Brent Fenty of ONDA and Brett Swift of Pew to promote either Wilderness or National Monument designation, whichever can get done the soonest and provide adequate protection.

And as a wonderful side benefit to the trip, we were treated to making good new connections with the Sierra Club DC staff, as well as Pew and Wilderness Society staff, while renewing bonds with old friends from many organizations.

We concluded that it was a most valuable week for us, for Waldo Lake, for the Owyhee, and for our Congresspersons! We hope they learned something, too, and were persuaded to join our conservation efforts, so future generations will have the ability to explore and enjoy these precious wild places of Oregon.

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