U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader are right. The time is ripe for congressional hearings on increasing timber harvests in federal forests in Western Oregon.
Douglas County’s jobless rate hasn’t been below 10 percent for more than four years. The rate peaked at more than 16 percent in early 2009. It came down, but it’s been stalled between 11 and 12 percent for a year.
County services also are stuck at an unsatisfactory level. Douglas County should be “timber rich,” but its libraries limp along, closed more often than not. County commissioners don’t know whether finances will get better or worse. Bet on worse unless timber revenue increases.
A full year has passed since DeFazio, Walden and Schrader proposed a way out of this malaise, but the bipartisan plan has languished in the House.
Gov. John Kitzhaber this month got behind the push to do something. He said we have had enough studies. He’s concluded that timber harvests can be increased with minimal impact to old-growth forests and watersheds.
No wonder the three House members say it’s time for action.
Last week, they asked Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden to use his new position as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to hold hearings on Oregon and California Railroad lands.
Wyden was noncommittal. He restated previously laid out principles for a new O&C act: stable funding for counties, sustainable timber harvests, strong environmental protection and more efficient management. All that sounds good. But DeFazio-Walden-Schrader have moved beyond that by recognizing two key details: Federal management of O&C lands has not worked and litigation naturally favors logging foes.
Their critics accuse them of wanting to clear-cut their way to prosperity because they would loosen federal logging restrictions on 1.5 million acres. The alternative, as pushed by some conservation groups, is continued federal payments to O&C counties and higher local taxes. This is a plan to tax your way to prosperity.
DeFazio, Walden and Schrader also propose putting time limits and other restrictions on legal challenges to timber harvests. The provision is needed because drawn-out disputes effectively stop logging. When seeking temporary injunctions to stop timber sales, conservationists argue, with impeccable logic, that trees can’t be uncut. Therefore, logging should be halted until the case is settled.
In contrast to the detailed DeFazio-Walden-Schrader plan, Wyden has offered what his office describes as a road map for federal legislation capable of passing the House and Senate.
Wyden agrees O&C lands should produce more timber and that there should be a “particular focus on streamlining the objection process.” He has yet, however, to show the same urgency in making a deal as the three House members.
They recognize the dearth of federal timber has become a “multi-generational problem.” If there were a universally popular or easy solution, it would have been implemented long ago.