Gorge Management Plan Review
Determining the future of Columbia Gorge protection
Clouds over the Columbia River, seen from Vista House. (photographer: Shaari Cohen)

The Columbia River Gorge is a natural scenic treasure and is protected as a federally designated National Scenic Area. Since 2017, the Columbia River Gorge Commission and the U.S. Forest Service have been in the process of reviewing Gorge protection plans, considering input from stakeholders and the public, and revising the Gorge Management Plan.

On Oct. 13, 2020, the Gorge Commission voted to adopt the revised Management Plan on a 9-2 vote. The revised plan includes climate policies, equity policies, strong urban area boundary policies, wetlands protections, doubled stream buffer size for salmon, improved scenic protection, limits on new dwellings in Forest zones, improved farm dwelling standards, stronger mining restrictions and much more. The Revised Management Plan is not perfect, but it is substantially improved. These are the most sweeping policy changes since 1991 when the original Management Plan was adopted.

 

Background

As a National Scenic Area, the Gorge is also home to 13 communities, or urban areas, where economic development is intended to occur.

When enacted in 1986, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act required the development of a Management Plan that ensures the protection and enhancement of scenic, natural, cultural, and recreation resources. The Management Plan also must protect agricultural lands, forest lands, and open spaces. The original Management Plan was adopted in 1991 (and until the 2020 review had been reviewed only once in 25 years (view current Management Plan), although the law requires it to be reviewed at least once every ten years. Prior to the 2020 revision, most of the resource protection provisions of the plan were based on inventories, science, and policies that are more than 25 years old.

Many of the issues raised by the public during the last review of the plan were not addressed in subsequent years, and development on sensitive lands within the National Scenic Area continued to march forward under these outdated guidelines.