Opinions were shared and sometimes shouted across a packed room Tuesday evening at the Douglas County Museum, where panelists and others talked about timber harvests in Western Oregon.
The conservation groups organized the forum, which focused on a plan championed by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio to increase timber harvests on Oregon and California Railroad trust lands.
The legislation, co-authored by DeFazio and Oregon Reps. Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader, has passed the House and been sent to the Senate.
The bill proposed to transfer about 1.5 million acres from federal to state oversight. Another 1.2 million acres would be put in a conservation trust. The land is spread across 18 Western Oregon counties, including 706,321 acres in Douglas County, the most of any single county.
Oregon Wild field coordinator Chandra LeGue said she fears the legislation’s call to maximize revenue will mean a weakening of environmental protections, allowing for more aerial spraying of herbicides, clearcuts and less protection for streams.
She also criticized the amount of land to be open for logging compared to the amount to be preserved. “The balance is not there,” LeGue said.
Cascadia Wildlands Conservation Director Francis Eatherington warned about threats to water quality and blasted counties that claim their economies need timber harvests.
She said counties are suffering because they never raised their historically low property taxes after timber revenue declined.
“The talk of in lieu of taxes is way overblown,” she added.
Eugene economist Ernie Niemi said the economic consequences of accelerated climate change and damage to water and habitat will be far greater than the benefits of increased logging.
“Overall, the economy is worse off,” he said.
The Association of O&C Counties on Monday challenged Niemi’s report on the relative value of goods and services produced by the trust lands.
In a news release, the association criticized Niemi’s report for having a clear bias against logging O&C lands.
Moderator Patrick Quinn of Umpqua Watersheds opened the floor for questions, but the panelists mostly heard opinions.
Rae Copitka of Roseburg said revenue from tourism has gone down because forests are unusable. “If we don’t start managing these forests, we are going to rot and die,” Copitka said.
Copitka’s comments did not sit well with some and heated words were flung around the room.
At various points, several people got up and left the forum, some parting by honking the horns of log trucks.
“We want nothing more than good jobs for our neighbors … in the woods, yes,” Eatherington responded. “The question is how do we do that.”
•You can reach reporter Christina George at 541-957-4202 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.