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May 19, 2013
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Editorial: Oregon's timber counties wait for a good word from Wyden

In addressing the future of the Oregon & California Railroad lands, some words won’t do anymore. Words such as “studies,” “timelines,” “frameworks,” “strategies” and “principles.”

It’s time to hear a four-letter word: “Bill.” There needs to be a bill to put into place a mechanism for increasing logging on O&C lands.

It could mean stripping oversight for timber harvests from the Bureau of Land Management. It could mean managing federal lands like private forests. It definitely will require tough choices that will encounter political opposition.

That’s why Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., needs to be the champion of reform. He’s the only lawmaker with both the motivation and clout to pass legislation tailored for Western Oregon.

Maybe he will do it. It remains to be seen. For now, everyone waits on Wyden.

Wyden raised expectations by telling The Oregonian that before this month ends he will lay out a strategy for achieving reform. Wyden’s spokesman, Tom Towslee, reaffirmed to News-Review staff writer John Sowell that Wyden understands the urgency and intends to present something in May. But what? A true plan or more guidelines?

Hopes also were raised earlier this year when Wyden became chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The chairmanship positioned Wyden to do something about the “social disintegration” (Gov. John Kitzhaber’s term) in timber-rich but economically crippled counties.

Months later, county commissioners, who largely represent the idea that more logging will improve life for their constituents, are impatient, questioning whether Wyden understands the stakes. Wyden says he does and that he agrees timber harvests should be increased. Wyden follows that acknowledgment, however, with the assertion that environmental protections may be maintained.

It’s hard to see how Wyden, experienced as he is, can pull off such a perfect balancing act that he satisfies everyone.

Environmental groups are looking at Wyden to champion putting more federal lands off-limits to logging, a role he’s embraced through legislation. So far, Wyden hasn’t shown the same commitment to his constituents who want timber harvests increased.

He has taken the position that designating new wilderness areas in Oregon is plausible, but a proposal by three House members to increase logging in Western Oregon can’t possibly pass the Senate. Fine. What’s his alternative?

It’s been 15 months since Oregon Reps. Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader released a detailed proposal to increase logging on O&C lands.

If Wyden doesn’t counter with his own proposal this month, another word will come to mind: “Disappointing.”

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The News-Review Updated May 20, 2013 09:03AM Published May 19, 2013 12:04AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.