Passage of the Steens Mountain bill is said to be one of thebiggest accomplishments of the year for a united Oregoncongressional delegation. The measure outlasted criticism from theClinton administration, Western conservatives andenvironmentalists, though dozens of changes were made to the billover the past few months. The vote eases fears that condos andvacation resorts could someday be built on the mountain.

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The Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act,written by Hood River-based republican Rep. Greg Walden, creates awilderness area in a high desert area of southeastern Oregoncherished for its remote beauty. Under the negotiated deal, about172,000 acres will become protected wilderness, including 100,000acres where no grazing will be permitted. Mining and geothermaldevelopment will be barred on about 1.2 million acres near thedesert mountain.

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The legislation trades nearly 18,000 acres of private land for100,000 acres of government land to eliminate a checkerboardpattern of private and public ownership and to ensure that thehigher-elevation land now owned by ranchers is protected. Privatelandowners in the area will get about $5.2 million in exchange forgiving up their property.

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