We can understand why Douglas County and 17 other Oregon counties felt slighted last week by Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.
The insult came when the senators floated a plan to cede 32,323 acres to settle 19th-century treaties with the Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe and the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower, Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians.
The counties don’t begrudge the tribes for wanting the Southern Oregon timberlands, now managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
The tribes have a historical claim to land. Plus, turning over 17,519 acres south of Canyonville to the business-savvy tribe sounds like a promising source of new timber jobs.
Still, the counties were rightly puzzled and disappointed that the senators, particularly Wyden, have made proposals to benefit tribes and designate wilderness areas, but they haven’t delivered on a plan to increase logging on Oregon & California Railroad lands.
In fact, the senators propose to cede to the tribes O&C land, which the federal government set aside in 1937 to generate revenue for the 18 counties.
The tribes would receive a tiny percentage of the O&C’s 2.6 million acres. But it’s the thought that counts.
The thought here is that O&C counties have low priority.
In his role as president of the Association of O&C Counties, Douglas County Commissioner Doug Robertson nicely summed up the counties’ frustration in a written statement.
Robertson emphasized the counties have no quarrel with the tribes, but he noted tribes have a stable source of revenue — casinos. Meanwhile, counties desperately need stepped-up economic activity on O&C lands.
Robertson directed criticism at Wyden because he’s the state’s senior senator and chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Robertson hit the bull’s-eye when he said it was time for Wyden to muster the political will to present a comprehensive package that satisfies tribes, designates wilderness areas and saves counties from economic ruin and social dysfunction.
Wyden’s office hurried to assure Robertson that O&C counties somehow won’t suffer a loss in timberlands. His office did not say where the land would come from to compensate O&C counties.
Robertson said he appreciated the promise and thanked the senator.
Still, the assurance didn’t nullify one word of Robertson’s statement.
The proposals to cede land to the tribes are in the “discussion draft” stage, according to the senators. No bill has been introduced. The legislation could be revised to prevent damage to O&C counties.
Wyden’s office didn’t offer anything specific. The promise was like everything else offered to the county so far — a vague pledge that feels like an afterthought.