Protecting the forest above Lewis and Clark's Station Camp is becoming more possible and more vital.

Sale of Longview Fibre last month to a Canadian company with an enthusiastic interest in land acquisition is a significant reminder that all privately owned forest in the Pacific Northwest is very much in the cross-hairs for development.

There is no indication that Toronto-based Brookfield Asset Management Inc. plans immediate conversion of local forest land into homesites. But timber companies throughout the region have made it increasingly clear that they are in the real estate business.

Weyerhaeuser is a key example, for instance actively marketing homesites carved from forests in Western Washington. "Experience forest living by building a homesite on your own private tree farm available in property sizes ranging from 5 to 20 acres," Weyco says on its Web site.

With millions more people expected to make their homes in Washington and Oregon in coming years, much that is now forest will be developed. This will be especially true of land with pretty views near the ocean. Station Camp and its surroundings are just such a place.

The historic site itself, the place Lewis and Clark considered to be the culmination of their westward journey, was acquired for the National Park Service in time for the 2005 bicentennial of the expedition's arrival here. Obtaining funds for a conservation easement to safeguard the 320-acre hillside that frames the historical site has proven to be a more elusive goal - despite strong support from the Northwest congressional delegation.

As we have noted before, the Lewis and Clark connection is only the most obvious factor in obtaining $2.5 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to permanently safeguard Station Camp's scenic and historic integrity. Just as noteworthy, and in some ways more so, is the fact this land is key to the story of the Chinook Indian people. The site was one of their most important villages for thousands of years, making it one of the nation's most significant historical and archaeological treasures.

With leaders like U.S. Reps. Norm Dicks and Brian Baird and U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell now setting the congressional agenda, it's time to protect this precious place for all time. Congress and President Bush should do the right thing and do it soon, a wise act of preservation for which future generations will give thanks and praise.

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