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February 26, 2013
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Editorial: Sen. Ron Wyden's cautious approach on federal timberlands leaves counties hanging

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio’s urgency to reform management of Oregon and California Railroad lands stems from conditions on the ground.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden should know those conditions as well as anyone. Perhaps that’s why DeFazio sounded frustrated last week when he said Wyden could schedule a hearing “tomorrow” on an O&C plan. “I would hope that with Sen. Wyden, it would go to the top of his list, because his counties are dying,” DeFazio said in a meeting with The News-Review editorial board.

Wyden, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, hasn’t called a hearing, and there’s no sense he’s in a hurry to do so.

Instead, he continues to throw O&C counties a lifeline by pledging to renew federal subsidies.

Douglas County and other O&C counties need the safety net, but it’s an insufficient long-term policy. It’s more of a “patch” than a safety net, and it doesn’t create private-sector jobs the county needs.

Plus, Wyden may be unwittingly deepening resistance to local tax increases, which he has hinted cash-strapped O&C counties should consider.

Wyden’s emphasis on the safety net will make passing a tax measure in Josephine County in May more difficult, Commissioner Simon Hare told the Associated Press. Hare said he wishes Wyden would focus on a timber plan instead. “The senator is, frankly, out of touch with what is going on here on the ground and with what we need,” Hare told AP environmental writer Jeff Barnard.

Wyden has written a “roadmap” for an O&C plan — seven principles that raise more questions than provide answers about what Wyden wants. The principles are too inexact to be a guide to anywhere.

For one thing, Wyden says that “timber harvests must produce more commercial product from O&C lands ...” But some environmental groups won’t accept plans that increase timber harvests, even if scientifically defined old-growth trees are protected and hundreds of thousands of acres are made off-limits to logging. Is Wyden willing to take on those groups?

Wyden’s spokesman said last week the senator may convene a broader hearing by midyear on federal management of timberlands. That would have the potential to be the Back to Square One Hearing.

Oregon needs a plan tailored for the 2.6 million acres of O&C lands. If the O&C lands get lumped in with discussions about how federal forest policies have failed elsewhere, we are in for a long, hard slog.

Gov. John Kitzhaber recently said no more studies are needed; it’s time to come up with a plan. Is Wyden ready to propose something specific?

Wyden rejects a proposal by DeFazio and Oregon Reps. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, and Kurt Schrader, D-Salem, to end federal management of 1.5 million acres of O&C lands.

A Wyden spokesman said last week the DeFazio-Walden-Schrader simply can’t pass the Senate.

That puts the ball in Wyden’s court. What’s his plan? Where’s the urgency?

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The News-Review Updated Feb 26, 2013 12:32PM Published Feb 26, 2013 12:32PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.