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Private Timberlands Bordering Classic Whitewater in Columbia Gorge For Sale

Posted: 01/14/2021
By: Thomas O'Keefe

The pending sale of 101,000 acres of private timberland by SDS Lumber Company in Washington and Oregon represents an urgent, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to conserve this vast landscape for wildlife, climate, recreation, and local communities. These lands include portions of the watersheds of the White Salmon, Little White Salmon, Klickitat, and Hood Rivers. These river systems originating on the southern foothills of Mt. Adams and the northern foothills of Mt. Hood flow into the Columbia River and have hydrological regimes that are unique to young volcanic landscapes. The young, sponge-like basalt deposits in the headwaters of these river systems capture seasonal precipitation and slowly release the water throughout the year, supplying the perennial flow of cold, clean water that is essential for regional fish habitat, recreation (truly world class whitewater), and irrigation needs. These attributes make rivers like the White Salmon extremely important for climate resilience and the future of salmonids in the mid-Columbia that benefitted from Condit Dam removal a decade ago.


For whitewater paddlers the unique hydrology and favorable climate of the White Salmon and Little White Salmon provide a long paddling season with big waterfalls and powerful rapids that challenge expert boaters and other sections that are suitable for instruction and guided raft trips. The river community has accessed these resources through private timberlands and the forests lining the gorges create a scenic landscape that is part of the overall experience of these Pacific Northwest classics (Little White From The Sky and Green Truss From The Sky).


American Whitewater is engaged with leaders in the local paddling community, conservation groups, and land trusts to prevent conversion and fragmentation of this landscape that could occur with a sale. Our preferred outcome is conservation of the most ecologically sensitive lands in the river corridor, uplands retained as working forest in a manner that provides economic and recreational benefits for the community benefits, formalization of river access sites that are open to the public, and recognition that these lands are within the Yakama Nation’s ceded area that presents opportunities for restorative justice.


At this time our objective is to support efforts to secure a buyer aligned with our interests and those of the local communities and Yakama Nation. We are not yet launching a dedicated fund for this work but we are actively engaged in the effort and contributions to American Whitewater will support our time on this project and are appreciated. A big thanks to those who in the Gorge paddling community who stepped up with generous year-end giving. If you have an interest and capacity to make a significant investment in this effort, please let us know.


With our partners at Outdoor Alliance, we have published a Story Map that illustrates the opportunity and why this place is so special:


We appreciate the efforts of the local paddling community to showcase this spectacular place and what it means to us through a couple of short films:

Gorge River Community, Episode 1

Gorge River Community, Episode 2

Thomas O'Keefe

3537 NE 87th St.

Seattle, WA 98115

Phone: 425-417-9012
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White Salmon Restoration (WA)

American Whitewater has been engaged in a long-term effort to protect and restore one of the Pacific Northwest's most spectacular year-around whitewater rivers.

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