State of the Gorge 2009

Columbia River Gorge Commission & USDA Forest Service ‐ Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

A report on the conditions of scenic, natural, economic, cultural and recreation resources in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area


The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act of 1986 has two purposes. The first mandates protection and enhancement of scenic, cultural, natural and recreation resources. The second requires protection and support of the economy of the gorge by encouraging growth in existing urban areas and by allowing future economic development in a manner that is consistent with protection and enhancement of resources.

The Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area is renowned for its spectacular beauty. Scenic resources span a diverse array of landscapes including dense forests, rolling farmlands and semi‐arid grasslands. Cultural resources, including prehistoric sites and historic structures are epitomized by the famous Indian petroglyph “She Who Watches,” and trace a human history in the gorge that is over 10,000 years old. Natural resources include diverse landscapes that support habitat for sensitive wildlife and plants; streams; lakes; wetlands and riparian corridors. These resources and more are found in abundance throughout the National Scenic Area (NSA). And then there is recreation . . . The NSA is known worldwide for the variety and quality of its recreational opportunities: windsurfing, hiking, fishing, mountain biking, kayaking and kiteboarding. And, with all of this ‐ it’s also a place where thousands of people make their homes, work and play.

The National Scenic Area Act designated special protection for 292,500 acres on both sides of the Columbia River from the outskirts of Portland‐Vancouver in the west to the semi‐arid regions of Wasco County and Klickitat County in the east. The NSA is categorized into three areas: Special Management Areas, General Management Areas and Urban Areas.

Special Management Areas (SMA), which generally contain the most sensitive resources, total 114,600 acres. Much, but not all, of the SMA are national forests managed by the Forest Service. General Management Areas (GMA), with 149,400 acres, include a mixture of land uses such as farming, forest practices and cattle grazing. Development on state and private lands within the GMA and SMA are administered by gorge counties and the Columbia River Gorge Commission. Exempt from Scenic Area regulations are 13 Urban Areas in the gorge: Cascade Locks, Hood River, Mosier and The Dalles in Oregon; and North Bonneville, Stevenson, Carson, Home Valley, White Salmon, Bingen, Lyle, Dallesport and Wishram in Washington.

The Vital Signs Indicators Project is the Columbia River Gorge Commission’s highest priority. To fulfill our responsibilities under the Scenic Area Act, the Commission and our partner agencies must be able to understand and track changes to the condition of gorge resources. The complexities of our region and the inter‐relatedness of seemingly distinct issues make this task challenging, but no less necessary.

The Vital Signs Indicators Project has multiple goals:

  1. Develop a set of high level measures to assess the conditions of gorge resources
  2. Inform future plan review sessions, and guide adaptive management
  3. Build new and strengthen existing relationships with our partner agencies and gorge communities
  4. Share information through community presentations and a dedicated website