U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s long-anticipated plan for the Oregon & California Railroad trust lands amounts to a bold call for — input.
Anyone who thought that Wyden would propose something specific has to be disappointed. Nevertheless, people as prominent and impatient as Gov. John Kitzhaber dutifully issued stilted remarks thanking Wyden for his “leadership.”
Tongues had to be firmly in cheek.
No one dared point out that the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee had again failed to do anything to help the people who inhabit a large part of his state.
Instead of legislation, Wyden offered a “framework for legislation.” We are at a loss to see how this represents progress over Wyden’s previously released “principles.”
Wyden did manage to clarify two points: He’s eager to make hundreds of thousands of acres off-limits to logging, and he thinks people in depressed timber counties should pay higher taxes.
Sure, the senator keeps saying more timber should be harvested in Western Oregon, but he can’t bring himself to act upon that stance. While others are ready for action, Wyden is “requesting input” and “consulting a cross-section of Oregonians” on what to do.
With the “framework for legislation,” Wyden’s office issued a press release. The press release was magnificently phantasmic.
“This is legislation that can pass the Congress and be signed by the president to increase timber jobs, protect the natural resources that Oregonians depend upon and provide an opportunity for rural communities to fund local services,” stated Wyden, somehow convinced he had actually proposed “legislation,” instead of releasing a clumsily written hodgepodge of vague goals and promises.
Here’s a taste for the determined reader:
“The legislation will modernize existing federal laws as they apply to O&C lands so that harvest can continue at a steady, sustainable, and uninterrupted rate once an initial review of all lands set aside for management is completed and as long as subsequent timber sales comply with the legislation.”
In contrast, a bipartisan O&C plan proposed by Oregon Reps. Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader has a clear way to increase timber harvests: Take management of 1.5 million acres away from the Bureau of Land Management and turn it over to a state body. Of course, environmental groups hate the idea. More trees can be cut down on state and private lands than on federal lands.
Wyden hasn’t embraced that concept. Instead, he moves toward designating wilderness areas and delays putting forward a plan to increase timbers harvests on the remaining O&C acres.
Meanwhile, Oregon’s timber counties suffer the economic consequences of an 84 percent reduction in timber harvests on O&C lands since 1990.
Until Wyden commits himself to specific harvest goals and a way to get there, his framework will leave timber counties hanging.