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March 12, 2014
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Editorial: Congress still best hope for new Oregon timber policy

Congress and the Bureau of Land Management aren’t exactly in a race to reform Western Oregon timber polices. It’s more like a stagger.

Of the two, Congress is more interesting to watch and provides more hope for timber counties and the wood-products industry. Unfortunately, the BLM’s tortuous bureaucratic slog may prevail.

Congress has a modicum of personality, drama and action. The House has actually done something; it passed an Oregon & California Railroad lands bill in September that’s much better than the status quo. Too bad White House advisers said they would recommend a veto, and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., declared it dead in the Senate.

The House bill was years in the making and days in the killing.

Nevertheless, the senator has been adamant he wants something done to raise low timber harvests. “We ought to just say, ‘This will get done this year,”” he said last month at a hearing on his own O&C bill.

Oregon’s federal, state and county lawmakers largely agree with Wyden — Congress should act to raise timber harvests. But what are the odds that will happen?

For the House bill, or something similar, to become law, the Senate and president will have to surrender to Oregon control over logging on federal lands. Wyden says it’s not politically possible.

Wyden’s bill has its own problem — nobody likes it much, not the timber industry, not the BLM, not counties and especially not conservation groups. Right now, it’s hard to see how Wyden’s bill is more politically viable than the House legislation.

Meanwhile, the BLM is working on a new management plan for O&C lands, to replace one that’s nearly two decades old and has failed Southern Oregon counties and economies.

It’s still fairly early in the process. In December, the BLM held “community listening sessions to lay the foundation for constructive dialogue.” This month, the agency is having meetings on “how the BLM is proposing to analyze alternatives.”

After several more rounds of meetings and comment periods, BLM expects to have a plan by the fall of 2015.

Conservation groups and timber industry organizations are both suspicious about what the BLM will do, but the timber industry has more reason to worry.

If Congress doesn’t act, the same forces remain in place, including the Endangered Species Act. In a planning document, the BLM cites the ESA as the main reason for reductions and instability in the timber supply. As threatened species decline or more species are listed, the BLM response likely will be to lower timber harvests even more.

The timber industry is pursuing multiple lawsuits in federal court claiming that the BLM has failed to follow the 1937 O&C Act. Finding relief in the courts is a long-term project.

Despite the odds, the best hope for a quick change in timber policy remains Congress. Let’s hope lawmakers pick up the pace.

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The News-Review Updated Mar 12, 2014 10:22AM Published Mar 12, 2014 09:52AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.