Columbia River Gorge NSA

Columbia River Gorge

National Scenic Area Act

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act (the “Act”), 16 U.S.C. §§ 544–544p, created the National Scenic Area, authorized the states to enter into a compact creating the Gorge Commission, required the CRGC and U.S. Forest Service to adopt a regional management plan, and required counties to adopt land use ordinances consistent with the management plan. The Act specifically designated “special management areas,” for which the U.S. Forest Service is the principal policy agency, and “urban areas” which are exempt from the land use regulations in the regional management plan.  The remaining land has no title in the Act, but is commonly referred to as “general management area”; the Gorge Commission is the principal policy agency for the general management area. View the National Scenic Area Act 

columbia river gorge


The Columbia River Gorge Compact is the agreement between Oregon and Washington establishing the Gorge Commission. It is codified at RCW 43.97.015 and ORS 196.150. The Washington and Oregon governors each appoint three commissioners; one of those three must be a resident of the National Scenic Area. The six gorge counties each appoint one commissioner. The area manager for the U.S. Forest Service National Scenic Area office is a nonvoting member. This structure creates an even balance between state and local appointees and Washington and Oregon appointees.  The compact also specifies how the states fund the CRGC and other specific CRGC authorizations.  The Gorge Commission’s authority is derived from the compact and the compact incorporates the Act by reference, so references to the Gorge Commission’s authority typically cite directly to the Act.

View Oregon's Enactment of the Compact

View Washington's Enactment of the Compact

Oregon & Washington

Compact Implementation

Several Oregon and Washington statutes implement the compact and the Act. ORS 196.155 and RCW 43.97.025 grant authority to and direct the states, including state agencies to carry out their respective functions under the Act. ORS 196.115 specifies procedures and standards for judicial review of Gorge Commission decisions (there is no equivalent statute in Washington).  Washington statutes also specifically require county commissioners, under RCW 36.32.550, and planning commissioners, under RCW 35.63.150, to act in conformance with the National Scenic Area Act and management plan regulations and ordinances, and require planning under the Planning Enabling Act, under RCW 36.70.980, and the Shoreline Management Act, under RCW 90.58.600, to be in conformance with the Act and management plan regulations and ordinances.

gorge commission

administrative rules

The Gorge Commission has adopted administrative rules for open meetings, disclosure of public records, financial disclosure, conflicts of interest, public contracts, and administrative procedures. The Act requires these rules must be consistent with the more restrictive of the two states’ statutes on these subjects. The Gorge Commission reviews its rules after each legislative session to ensure they continue to comply with that requirement. Additionally, the Gorge Commission maintains specific rules for appeals, enforcement, and other actions it handles on a regular basis.  The Gorge Commission files its rules with the Oregon Secretary of State and Washington Code Reviser, but the rules are not technically part of the Oregon Administrative Rules (OAR) or the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) because they are not state agency rules. The official version of the Gorge Commission’s rule are below. Oregon includes the Gorge Commission’s rules in its printed and online versions of the OAR compilation, but Washington does not include them in the WAC compilation. 


Management Plan

Congress called for the preparation of the Management Plan for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area to ensure that land in the National Scenic Area is used consistently with the purposes and standards of the National Scenic Area Act. The Gorge Commission and Forest Service must revise the management plan at least every 10 years. The Gorge Commission and Forest Service adopted the management plan in 1991 with input from Indian tribal governments, county and city governments, state and federal agencies, citizens, and non-governmental organizations. In 2004, the agencies completed the first 10-year revision. The Gorge Commission may amend the management plan between revisions if it finds that conditions in the National Scenic Area have significantly changed.  The Secretary of Agriculture must concur with revisions and amendments to the management plan.

The management plan contains the land use and resource protection standards, non-regulatory programs, and projects for protecting and enhancing Columbia River Gorge resources, as well as a description of roles and relationships of governments and agencies responsible for implementation of the National Scenic Area Act. The Forest Service develops the land use regulations for federal land and land in the “special management areas.” The Gorge Commission develops the land use regulations for the general management area. The management plan does not directly apply to the 13 urban areas. View the Management Plan

county and gorge commission


The Act requires each of the six gorge counties—Multnomah, Hood River, and Wasco counties in Oregon, and Clark, Skamania, and Klickitat counties in Washington—to adopt land use ordinances that are consistent with the management plan. The Gorge Commission must review those ordinances and amendments to those ordinances for consistency with the management plan.  If a county does not have a National Scenic Area land use ordinance, the Gorge Commission must adopt and administer one for National Scenic Area lands in that county. The Secretary of Agriculture must concur with the Gorge Commission’s consistency determination for county land use ordinances relating to the special management area portions of an ordinance.  Five of the counties have adopted a National Scenic Area land use ordinance:

The Gorge Commission administers the National Scenic Area Ordinance for Klickitat County, Commission Rule 350-82. The U.S. Forest Service administers land use standards in the Management Plan without a land use ordinance for federal projects on federal lands. View the National Scenic Area Land Use Ordinance for Klickitat County 

gorge commission


The Act requires the Gorge Commission to hear appeals of land use decisions in the National Scenic Area. The Gorge Commission hears appeals of land use decisions made by the counties on the record pursuant to Commission Rule 350-60, and appeals of decisions by Gorge Commission staff for land use applications in Klickitat County de novo pursuant to Commission Rule 350-70. The CRGC prepares written decisions and gives the decisions precedential effect. View Appeal Decisions


columbia river gorge commission


In addition to the authorities listed above, the Commission operates under bylaws that specify procedures for its meeting; election and duties of the Chair and Vice-Chair; delegation of authority to the Executive Director; and the Commission’s committees. View the Bylaws