On Monday, President Obama signed into law a piece of legislation that will protect one of those precious wild places - the Badlands wilderness area, about 15 miles east of Bend.
The signature was the final victory in a political battle that had gone on literally for decades, since the federal Bureau of Land Management first proposed that the 30,000-acre swath of high desert was special enough to deserve protection from the assaults of development, mining, grazing, and the howl of the infernal combustion engine. That victory was the result of the patient labor of dozens of people both in Congress and outside of it, notably Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and the Oregon Natural Desert Association.
ONDA and its allies such as the Friends of the Badlands worked to build local grassroots support, including bringing the Bend City Council and Deschutes County Commission on board. Without those local government endorsements the legislation wouldn't have had a chance in Congress.
Wyden continued fighting tirelessly for the bill despite a series of setbacks inflicted by parliamentary maneuvering in the Senate. Last Wednesday, the House approved the bill on a bipartisan vote of 285-140, with all five Oregon members supporting it.
The legislation signed Monday - officially titled the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 - protects far more than the Bend Badlands. It is a whole bushel of measures that, taken together, protect more than 2 million acres of wilderness, national monuments, trails and rivers across the United States.
In Oregon, besides creating the Badlands Wilderness, the act confers wilderness protection on almost 127,000 acres around Mount Hood, designates about 8,600 acres overlooking the John Day River as the Spring Basin Wilderness, gives wild and scenic status to more than nine miles of the North Fork of the Elk River, and adds 13,700 acres to the existing Grassy Knob Wilderness in southern Oregon.
The Badlands legislation and the rest of the omnibus public lands act faced a tough battle because they had determined and well-funded opponents - not only off-road vehicle enthusiasts, but also powerful mining, timber and ranching interests.
Fortunately for the Bend area, for Oregon and for the country, the protectors of wilderness did not back away from the fight. Because of their tenacity, Oregonians and Americans - both now and in future generations - will be richer in the intangible ways that wild places make us. For that, we give them our thanks - and the GLASS SLIPPER.