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The Bull Run watershed has benefitted from federal legislative protections since the Bull Run Trespass Act was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt. This 1904 law restricted access into the watershed and the surrounding area, then known as the Bull Run Forest Reserve, to protect Portland’s water supply.
In 1977, Congress passed the Bull Run Act or Public Law (PL) 95-200. This law created the Bull Run Watershed Management Unit and formally authorized joint authority for the City of Portland and the Forest Service to manage the Bull Run. PL 95-200 defined the management objective of the unit to be the production of “…pure, clear, raw potable water…for the City of Portland and other local government units and persons in the Portland metropolitan area.”
Although water quality in the Bull Run was protected by PL 95-200, the Forest Service also operated under a mandate by Congress to manage its lands for “multiple uses.” This mandate meant that some logging occurred in the Bull Run, especially in the 1970s and 80s. Citizen protests and a lawsuit (Miller vs. Mallory) against logging led to efforts in the 1990s to strengthen the protections of PL 95-200.
The 1994 Northwest Forest Plan severely restricted timber harvest on Forest Service land—which comprises most of the management unit—for the purpose of protecting the northern spotted owl. Two years later, Congress created significant additional protections for Bull Run in the 1996 Oregon Resources Conservation Act. This 1996 amendment to PL 95-200 prohibited timber harvest on all Forest Service lands within the water supply drainage of the Bull Run River.
In 2001, Congress extended the timber harvest prohibitions to all remaining lands within the entire Bull Run Watershed Management Unit through a second amendment to PL 95-200 called the 2001 Little Sandy Protection Act. This act also expanded the management unit boundary slightly on the south to include additional public lands in the Little Sandy River watershed.