updated 3/26/2007 7:40:28 PM ET 2007-03-26T23:40:28

No matter how many pressing matters are at hand, legislators always find time to debate the merits of a new state icon.

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Oregon has a state bird, flower, insect and gemstone. In 2005, Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed a bill that made the metasequoia the state fossil.

And this week, legislators are expected to hear whether the reddish earth found in the Willamette Valley foothills, known as Jory, should be the state soil.

"We are trying to highlight the importance of soil to our state," said Scott Burns, a Portland State geology professor who has lobbied for a decade to make Jory a state symbol.

The soil is named after Jory Hill in Marion County, where the soil is found in abundance. It is one of about 3,500 distinctive soil types in the Northwest. Jory is derived from weathered basalt, whose source was volcanic vents in Eastern Oregon.

"You have something that came from the east, but developed here. I think it's the perfect choice because it unites both sides of the mountain," Burns said.

Burns noted that signature Oregon crops — such as wine grapes, Christmas trees and hazelnuts (the state nut) — thrive in Jory.

Despite his arguments, Burns was unable in previous sessions to persuade enough lawmakers to put Jory on the same pedestal as the square dance and the chinook salmon, the state dance and fish, respectively.

During a previous attempt, one lawmaker took Burns aside and told him the effort was a waste of time and taxpayer money.

May we suggest a song for the state soil?: ‘Ode to Jory’
About 20 states have an official state soil. State representatives Kevin Cameron, R-Salem, and Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, sponsored House Joint Resolution 48, which would make Oregon the next one.

Richard Page, a retired insurance executive from Portland, started the most recent campaign after taking a tour of Oregon's wine country. The tour, led by Burns, discussed how soil can influence the flavor of wine grapes.

Page's interest grew when Burns mentioned that Jory was among the best for pinot noir. The Jory family is part of Page's family tree. In pioneer days, the Jory family farmed land near South Salem.

Page contacted Greenlick and a resolution was drafted.

Cameron, who has Jory soil in his backyard garden, said the resolution was not a high priority. He said he agreed to sponsor because the soil originated in his district.

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