Finally, Oregon lawmakers got a public hearing before members of Congress for their bipartisan plan to ease some of Oregon’s forest management woes.
It’s been a long time coming. For more than 20 years, since protections for the threatened northern spotted owl went into effect, Douglas County residents have been searching for sustainable ways to harvest timber on the federal lands surrounding us without degrading the environment or harming the habitat for fish and wildlife.
On Thursday in Washington, D.C., Douglas County Commissioner Doug Robertson, Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, Greg Walden, R-Hood River, and Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, described the urgent need for implementing the O&C Trust Act and the advantages it would provide.
In phone interviews following the lengthy hearing before a House Natural Resources subcommittee, Robertson and DeFazio called the discussion productive, positive and valuable.
DeFazio said many aspects of the plan, which would increase logging on 1.4 million acres of Oregon & California Railroads while setting aside 1.2 million acres for conservation, were appealing to lawmakers.
It would put thousands of people back to work in the woods and local mills. Increasing employment is a major concern for lawmakers, especially in rural America.
The plan would save the federal government up to $100 million per year. Reducing spending is a huge concern for Congress.
Western Oregon counties could once again be self-supporting by utilizing their own natural resources to pay for county services. That’s another plus. Walden said communities would be thrilled to swap handouts — the timber safety net — for healthy forests and budgeting certainty.
Under the plan, new wilderness areas would be protected as well as remaining old-growth trees.
Proponents of the bill admit it’s not perfect but they are open to suggestions to improve it.
Tom Tuchman, forest adviser to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, also spoke Thursday. He told the committee the governor supports the plan but broader protections are needed for fish-bearing streams.
DeFazio said that modification can and should be made. He said when the Northwest Forest Plan was released, we didn’t have the scientific studies we now have to determine what protections would be adequate.
He also favors Kitzhaber’s suggestion of using 5 percent of trust revenues to establish a state fund so private landowners can create more robust protection for riparian areas.
A recent proposal to transfer some O&C lands to Southern Oregon Indian tribes, including the Cow Creeks, to settle an 1853 treaty could also be addressed in the O&C Trust Act package. That could result in an equitable solution and provide more support for a bill.
The lawmakers emphasized, and we must too, that some Oregon counties are on the verge of going broke. This discussion must move forward and only the federal government can provide a solution.