Timber solution still on hold in Oregon


Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber’s 14-person panel of timber stakeholders did not come to an agreement about how to increase the state’s federal timber harvest – after three months of discussion. That’s an unfortunate fact. Reaching conclusions about the detente is harder to come by.

The Oregonian says the lack of agreement is a failure, for Kitzhaber most of all, calling it a “rare stumble” for the governor. It is an reminder of how difficult it is for the timber industry and envrionmental groups to agree on anything – even when they get put in the same room with the same goal: increase the timber harvest.

According to the Oregonian, local county leaders and timber reps wanted to more than double the federal timber harvest, from 200 million board feet to more than 500 million board feet. Environmental groups want to stick closer to the current harvest level and cap any increased harvest to “regeneration harvests” with limited clearcuts.

This wasn’t about small details or haggling over the amount of board feet. Instead, there was major differences of opinion on what the phrase “increase the timber harvest” means. Is it the kind of increase that moves the needle or is “regeneration harvests” enough?

Nonetheless, both sides of the debate said they were encouraged by the results of the panel. Their discussions resulted in a 94-page report that Kitzhaber hopes will guide Congress in coming up with a solution.

Allyn Ford, a panel member and president of Roseburg Forest Products, said the governor helped build a better working relationship between all the parties. That’s unique, he said, and should help going forward.

“A grand consensus would have been wonderful,” Ford said, “but the issue was really trying to get the facts on the table.”

The Medford Mail Tribune interviewed Jack Williams, the senior scientist for Trout Unlimited and former supervisor of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, one of six conservation representatives on the panel.

“This is just the beginning, but Gov. Kitzhaber has laid a solid foundation from which to build a lasting solution,” he said.

The cash-strapped rural counties in Oregon can’t wait much longer. And the Kitzhaber panel was considered a bellwether that could bring similar solutions to other timber states, so this isn’t just about Oregon.

Just one day before the lack of timber agreement was announced, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said it was holding back 10 percent of timber payments to rural counties. Hours later, no timber solution was in sight.

Any solution likely won’t come in time to help timber-reliant counties with their 2013-14 budgets. Douglas County Commissioner Doug Robertson, a panel member and president of the Association of O&C Counties, said counties will once again press for federal bridge funding.

About a third of Douglas County’s $30 million general fund comes from county timber payments, Robertson said, down from two-thirds historically.

“We’re eliminating positions and services and trying to identify priorities, mainly law enforcement,” Robertson said. “It’s not going to be pretty, I can tell you that.”