We may learn soon how firmly Gov. John Kitzhaber believes the dire things he’s said about rural Western Oregon.
More than a year ago, Kitzhaber gave a blunt, and accurate, assessment of the downward path the region has taken in the two decades since timber harvests on federal lands dropped precipitously.
Speaking to the Oregon Board of Forestry, the governor warned about the “social disintegration” occurring in rural counties.
More recently, he told the same board that federal management of timberlands has failed Oregon.
Logging on federal lands has been so curtailed that neither forests nor rural counties are healthy.
Now, Kitzhaber has a chance to do something dramatic about it.
A 14-member advisory committee looking at management of the Oregon and California Railroad lands has completed its work. The members were as diverse as Roseburg Forest Products CEO Allyn Ford, Douglas County Commissioner Doug Robertson and representatives from six environmental groups. It’s not surprising the panel couldn’t unite behind a proposal.
But the governor’s office says the committee generated ideas. It will be up to Kitzhaber and his forest adviser, Tom Tuchman, to distill the concepts into a proposal to push in Congress.
The governor already has set down seven “principles” for any plan to achieve. The principles include providing stable county funding and a steady timber supply, protecting unique places and promoting conservation on private lands interspersed in a checkerboard pattern among the O&C lands.
With the committee’s work done, it’s time for Kitzhaber to move beyond principles and lay out a detailed plan.
It’s hard to see how a plan won’t include wresting at least some control from the Bureau of Land Management.
U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader have put forward a plan to turn management of nearly 1.5 million acres of O&C timberland over to a state board.
Putting the land under state control wouldn’t ensure increased timber harvests. After all, conservation groups have been able to stop a plan to increase logging in the Elliott State Forest with a lawsuit.
But it seems unlikely the O&C lands will ever be close to producing stable county funding and a steady timber supply while managed by the BLM.
The management of the O&C lands only affects 18 counties in Western Oregon. To persuade Congress to loosen federal control will take an impressive lobbying effort.
Kitzhaber can play an important role by persuading other Western governors to ask their states’ congressional delegations to support state control over a portion of O&C lands.
Any meaningful proposal will draw fire from conservation groups and opposition from federal lawmakers suspicious of giving Oregon special consideration.
Kitzhaber will have to be bold. He will have to propose something daring and fight for it like he means it.