What is "Gorge2020"?

“Gorge 2020” is a three-year process to review, and revise as necessary, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Management Plan (Plan).

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (NSA) was established by Congress in 1986. Covering 292,000 acres and 85 miles of the Columbia River in Oregon and Washington, the National Scenic Area is managed jointly by the Columbia River Gorge Commission and the U.S. Forest Service. The purpose of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act (Act) is to protect and enhance the natural, cultural, scenic and recreation resources of the NSA, and to protect and support the economy of the Columbia River Gorge area. In accordance with the Act, the Columbia River Gorge Commission and U.S. Forest Service adopted a National Scenic Area Management Plan in 1991 to guide land use in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Section 6(g) of the National Scenic Area Act states:

“No sooner than five years after adoption of the management plan, but at least every ten years, the Commission shall review the management plan to determine whether it should be revised. The Commission shall submit any revised management plan to the Secretary (of Agriculture) for review and concurrence, in accordance with the provisions of this section for adoption of the management plan.”

What are the Standards that the Management Plan must meet?

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act sets forth the following requirements that the Columbia Gorge Commission must satisfy when revising the Management Plan:

  1. Protect and enhance agricultural lands for agricultural uses;
  2. Protect and enhance forest lands for forest uses;
  3. Protect and enhance open spaces;
  4. Protect and enhance public and private recreation resources and educational and interpretive facilities and opportunities;
  5. Prohibit major development actions in special management areas;
  6. Prohibit industrial development in the scenic area outside urban areas;
  7. Require that commercial development outside urban areas take place without adversely affecting the scenic, cultural, recreation, or natural resources of the scenic area;
  8. Require that residential development outside urban areas take place without adversely affecting the scenic, cultural, recreation, and natural resources of the scenic area; and
  9. Require that mining operations, and the reclamation of mined lands, take place without adversely affecting the scenic, cultural, recreation and natural resources of the scenic area

To meet these standards, the current Management Plan draws from elements of Oregon and Washington land use planning and law, elements of federal forest management, and unique elements that the Commission and U.S. Forest Service developed specifically to address situations in the National Scenic Area.

Taking stock of changes in the Gorge

The “Gorge 2020” process offers us an opportunity to reflect on 30 years since the country’s largest and most dynamic Scenic Area was established. It’s been twelve years since the Management Plan was last reviewed and much has changed. New land uses and new types of development are emerging, economies and communities are continuously changing, visitation is steadily rising, and pressures from outside the National Scenic Area affect the people who live, work, and play in the Gorge.

Through this process of community discussions and policy work, the Commission is focused on resiliency in the face of these changes and pressures and has requested additional discussion about how the Plan should address climate change impacts and adaptation. We are asking our partner agencies, organizations, and interested citizens to join in an informed discussion of what it means to uphold the National Scenic Area Act in a manner that is sustainable for the future, given what we know and can learn about regional trends.

Timeline
How did we identify the items to revise?

The Commission and US Forest Service held public scoping from winter 2016 to spring 2017 to identify necessary revisions to the Management Plan. We hosted three public listening sessions and written comment period, meetings with tribes, agencies, counties, and organizations. We also reviewed the issues identified but not completed during the last Plan Review process in 2004. During its July 2017 meeting, the Commission discussed the issues that staff should pursue further.

We identified some comments that were beyond the Commission’s authorities, in conflict with Commission resolutions, or that required further refinement to be addressed within the Plan. These will not be addressed in “Gorge 2020”.

Please see the Reading Materials tab for full summaries of the input we recieved, background documents, and current plan sections.

Based on the diverse input we collected, and from internal staff review, we identified technical corrections and necessary updates. We also received comments about process improvements, programs, and partnerships that can be addressed through staff work without revising Management Plan content. Capacity and Commission priorities will direct when we address these issues, but we agree that they represent opportunities to improve our work to implement the Plan.

Some of these on-going efforts that do not require Plan revisions include:

  • Supporting regional partnerships including MCEDD, the Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance, Pacific Northwest Aquatic Monitoring Partnership, Pacific Northwest Economic Region Partnership, East Cascades Oak Partnership, and others
  • Improving tools for landowners, realtors including online maps and information
  • Engaging volunteers and stakeholders to increase efficiency and effectiveness
  • Supporting traffic congestion studies and regional solutions related to transportation
  • Securing additional funding for Commission capacity and programs

The remaining comments made up recommended items to carry forward for further discussion, examination of trends, text revisions and/or policy changes. We further refined these carry forward items, based on their urgency for changes in the Management Plant, direct relevance to the purposes of the Act and the role of the Commission, scope and scale of the issue, and potential impacts of delaying action. Looking through these lenses we identified focus topics deserving a “deep dive”, additional information, and robust public engagement strategies to adequately address. Input from the public, stakeholders, agency partners, and tribal governments assisted staff in identifying these four focus topics needing further discussion. These items are directly relevant to needed changes in the Management Plan, are timely, and of high interest to many stakeholders. Please see the Focus Topics & Technical Teams tab for more informations.

In the coming months, the Commission and Forest Service will be assembling expert teams to lead the focus topic conversations with us. There will be public participation opportunities and additional public outreach events for each. Please check our website for updates and sign up for our listserve to receive email alerts by sending an email to info@gorgecommission.org.

Economic Development

The Commission and Forest Service are analyzing economic drivers in the NSA, and defining the Commission’s role related to economic development.

Please contact Krystyna Wolniakowski for more info.

Urban Area Boundaries

The Commission and Forest Service aim to clarify the definition of a “minor revision” and the process and/or criteria for revising Urban Area boundaries.

Please contact Jason Hildreth for more info.

Recreation

The Commission and Forest Service will examine policies related to recreation and tourist visitation including but not limited to demand/capacity, access, regional planning, and Recreation Intensity Classes.

Please contact Casey Gatz for more info.

Emerging Land Uses and Streamlining Implementation

The Commission and Forest Service will revise and clarify land use policies to improve consistent application of resource guidelines and to address emerging land uses. Updates will be primarily to Part II Chapter 7 including, but not limited to, expedited review uses and processes, solar development, vineyards and cideries, agritourism, cumulative impacts analysis guidance, visually subordinate standards, etc.

Please contact Robin Shoal or Jessica Gist for more info.

Technical Team Revisions

The Commission and the US Forest Service are also convening technical experts to revise the Scenic Resources and Natural Resources sections of the plan with updated information. There will be opportunities to weigh in on draft revisions to those sections (see the Timeline tab).

Get Involved

The next public meetings will be held in February 2018 – more information to come