Gov. John Kitzhaber delivered a report last week that is crucial to Douglas County’s future and should spur congressional action.
He supplied a road map, based on science, which could increase timber industry jobs and provide more money for Western Oregon counties while protecting precious ecosystems.
Basically, Kitzhaber expanded on a bipartisan plan crafted by Oregon’s congressional delegation for managing the unique forests known as the Oregon & California Railroad trust lands. Those 2.6 million acres of land, of which 706,321 acres are in Douglas County, have been seen as the answer to financial woes for Oregon counties that have been relying on the federal timber safety net to fund county services.
Douglas County has more acres of O&C lands than any other Oregon county and historically relied heavily on timber revenue from the lands to fund its landfill, libraries, parks, veterans services and more.
Because the safety net has expired and renewal looks unlikely, elected officials have been looking for ways to keep counties from going bankrupt.
Kitzhaber’s approach was to convene a diverse panel — timber industry representatives and conservationists along with county officials — to look at the proposal developed by U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader.
His success came in getting some agreement among group members, despite their different ideals, that the O&C lands can be a solution for county funding, timber supply and jobs while meeting clean water and conservation goals. The 94-page report released by the committee explores a range of forest management options to achieve such a solution.
Kitzhaber stopped short of offering a specific proposal, rightly recognizing that it’s up to our congressional members to write and pass bills into law. He encourages our congressional delegation to reconvene his panel to help draft the legislation because of their remarkable ability to work together on issues that have divided us in past decades.
Kitzhaber made it clear that timber production should be the dominant use of O&C lands and policies should be structured so timber sales can go forward with certainty. He pointed out that thinning projects alone are not enough.
He emphasized that the O&C lands are unique and legislation needs to address these lands specifically.
He urged protection for wilderness and the designation of more rivers as Wild and Scenic. He also pledged to create a substantial fund for encouraging conservation on private timberlands.
If a bill can be crafted and passed according to the report’s recommendations, Douglas County would see stable and predictable timber harvests above current harvest levels. That translates to family-wage jobs and a healthier economy in Douglas County. That’s what we need.
If we listen to scientists and follow their advice, we’ll also keep the salmon runs healthy, the water clean and reduce the risk of fire and insect infestation in our forests. That should sustain our fishing, tourism and outdoor recreation industries, too.
Oregon’s congressional delegation needs to put this report to good use soon.