U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden pledged Friday to extend the federal timber safety net for another year, buying time to come up with a new management plan for the 2.2 million acres of Oregon & California Railroad trust lands in Western Oregon.
Wyden was joined by Montana Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a supporter of the safety net program in the past.
“Maintaining the federal government’s historic obligation to rural Oregon and to rural America has always been my top legislative priority,” Wyden said in a statement. “As the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I plan to throw my weight behind an extension of this program, to make sure rural counties are not left in the lurch.”
The current one-year extension ended two weeks ago when payments from the federal Bureau of Land Management were made to the 18 counties in Western Oregon with O&C lands. Those payments put many counties in the lurch as 10 percent was withheld under budget sequestration rules in effect in case Congress doesn’t come up with a budget plan by next month.
Wyden, a Portland Democrat who became chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in January following the retirement of the previous chairman, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, authored the original safety net legislation in 2000.
Douglas County Commissioner Doug Robertson on Saturday was guardedly optimistic the senators can deliver.
“Clearly, the two guys in the Senate who could get this done are Wyden and Baucus,” Robertson said.
Still, the legislation would have to pass what could be an even bigger hurdle in the House, he said.
“They may get it passed in the Senate but they have to send it over to the House, where there may be some members who want to see a management plan,” Robertson said.
Democratic Reps. Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader and Republican Rep. Greg Walden, all from Oregon, have leaned on Wyden to schedule a hearing on coming up with a management plan for the O&C lands that would provide a predictable supply of timber, add new jobs and protect the environment. Wyden, who has said he wants to pass legislation to do that, has not yet indicated when he might convene a hearing.
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