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May 5, 2013
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Editorial: Separate bill to protect wilderness unnecessary

Oregon has many natural and scenic treasures worthy of protection. We support establishing wild and scenic rivers and wilderness areas.

That’s one of the many reasons we encourage our federal legislators to debate, improve and enact the O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act.

The act, still in the draft stage, would designate the Devil’s Staircase near Reedsport as a wilderness area, and it would add 58,000 acres to the existing Wild Rogue Wilderness Area in Southern Oregon.

It would also add wild and scenic designations to more miles of Oregon streams, including Franklin and Wasson creeks, both tributaries of the Umpqua River.

The popular Rogue River would see 35 tributaries and 93 miles receive wild, scenic or recreational labels under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and hydroelectric projects would be prohibited on 19 of the Rogue’s tributaries. Some 20 miles of the Molalla River would be declared scenic and the Chetco River would get additional protection.

In addition to these protections, the act would preserve old-growth forests as approximately 1.2 million acres of Western Oregon forests would be set aside for conservation.

These provisions were included in the O&C Trust Act, a bipartisan proposal, to strike a balance between timber harvests and preservation on the Oregon & California Railroad lands.

By law, these lands are to be managed for sustainable timber harvest, but timber industry representatives and lawmakers realize they must compromise if they want to increase harvest levels on federal lands.

The draft legislation has many more advantages. By allowing the forests to be managed, it would increase the timber supply to mills, increase employment, improve forest health, provide much-needed revenue to fund county services and save the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars.

Because the proposal is so comprehensive, it needs the support of Oregon’s senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. Modifications to the proposal are welcome, particularly suggestions that came out of the O&C Lands Report commissioned by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber.

But the senators should not be distracted by a separate bill, the Oregon Treasures Act of 2013, that deals only with preservation of mostly the same areas. The need for establishing more wilderness areas and wild and scenic rivers is not nearly as urgent as the financial crises facing Western Oregon counties. These counties, such as Curry, Josephine and Douglas, have the solution for their financial woes standing in the vast, unmanaged federal forests surrounding their county seats.

We need a forest management plan that will allow the harvest of a reasonable amount of timber, while protecting fish and wildlife, so counties can continue to provide basic services. The backers of the Oregon Treasures Act need to recognize and embrace the protections for wilderness areas in the O&C Trust Act and work to make the timber harvest plan palatable to them.

Both sides must compromise if we’re going to get what we need and want from our federal forests.

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The News-Review Updated May 5, 2013 01:59PM Published May 5, 2013 12:04AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.