Mixed news out of Oregon this week. A plan by Oregon Reps. Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader to split key federal timber lands roughly 50-50 between preservation and harvest could have passed the U.S. House but is dead on arrival in the Senate, according to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber. The governor said that environmental groups were prepared to "dig in" and fight the bill.
The failure of the bill, which was supported by politicians from both sides of the aisle as well as the timber industry and local officials across rural Oregon, is bad news for timber-dependent counties that are hemmorhaging money and slashing their budgets.
But Kitzhaber seems to think he has a solution. Instead of the DeFazio bill, Kitzhaber is planning on putting representatives from the timber industry, environmental groups and local counties in a room over the next two months and making them come up with a plan to "allow more logging on 2.6 million acres of federal land while protecting key environmental features."
Increased logging on the O&C lands will require modified clear-cuts, sometimes called "regenerational harvesting." One of the issues to be settled, the governor said, is whether there is "social license" for clear-cutting on public land. The timber industry will need assurance that logs are put up for sale and harvested as promised. Conservationists groups will press for protection of watersheds and wildlife.
"Both sides -- and hopefully we can get beyond sides -- both groups of interests need some certainty, I think, for this to work," Kitzhaber said.
The timber counties, represented by the Association of O&C Counties, are supportive of the proposal. One of the state's largest timber groups, the American Forest Resource Council, says it's "hopeful that the panel can succeed where so many efforts have failed."
Rep. DeFazio said he also supports Kitzhaber's idea.
"It's a collaborative process and I'm very supportive of that," said DeFazio, a Democrat who represents the fourth congressional district in southwest Oregon. "It could be very helpful."
Larry Huss, a conservative commentator in Oregon, isn't so sure. He said the panel is only being created because the decline of the timber industry and economic problems of rural counties were ignored by state leaders for decades.
It is solely and only because government now faces a funding crisis that (Gov. Kitzhaber is) moved to even speak about the issue let alone do anything...
...(P)lease remember that Mr. Kitzhaber has a long record of appointing blue ribbon panels and then ignoring their advice.