What will federal timber reform look like?


There seems to be a lot of confidence in Washington, D.C., right now that some sort of increase in the federal timber harvest will be approved by Congress. A sweeping package of reforms called the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act is moving through the House, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is working on his own legislation in the Senate.

But what kind of timber reform will be approved? Will it be enough to help rural communities? That is still an open question.

As is often the case, Oregon seems to be the forefront of the debate. In the current House legislation is a proposal from Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., that would place the federal timberland in Oregon known as O&C Land into two trusts, one set aside for conservation and the other set aside for sustainable timber harvest.

Wyden says he’s skeptical that DeFazio’s plan will get enough votes in the Democrat-controlled Senate, while DeFazio says a recent court ruling that says the feds aren’t harvesting enough timber in Southwest Oregon should give his proposal more support.

Timber and county leaders across Oregon are pushing hard for DeFazio’s plan to get final approval from Congress. Government and public safety leaders from five Oregon counties gathered in Medford this week to tell the public why DeFazio’s plan is the only way to get a predictable timber harvest and restore rural communites.

Their arguments couldn’t be more timely. Wildfires are blazing in Southern Oregon and around the West, the U.S. Forest Service just announced it’s demanding refunds of timber payments from 22 states (including $4 million from Oregon) and radical activists are living in trees to try to stop a 187-acre timber harvest in Southwest Oregon.

The rural Oregon leaders said this week that DeFazio’s plan is the best way to get out of the morass.

“The path to maintaining the status quo will inevitably lead to insolvency and a rapid decreased livability in many areas of our state,” said (Douglas County Commissioner Doug Robertson). “There is another path, one that provides an innovative and balanced alternative to managing our national forest and BLM land.

“This approach includes significant gains in the area of conservation while creating thousands of new jobs, adequate resources for county government and the sustainable flow of raw materials for the wood-products industry,” he added of (DeFazio’s plan)...

“I think we are poised really well toward a solution,” said (Josephine County Commissioner Simon Hare). “At the end of the day, most of the county commissioners in the O&C counties no longer want what is considered a welfare check. What they want is the jobs and the economy that is tied to this important legislation.

“I think that people in Oregon are starting to realize that our do-nothing management style has really brought us nowhere,” he added.

The most striking sign of decline in the rural counties is the fact that most people don’t feel safe anymore, the leaders said. Budget cuts have led to essentially no law enforcement presence in large parts of Oregon.

“I’m here today to give you a preview of coming attractions to your area if we can’t fix this problem,” said Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson, who now has one patrol deputy.

“We are buried,” he said. “Burglary has increased 1,594 percent over the last year. Auto theft has increased 1,714 percent. Theft increased 1,435 percent. Domestic assault, 1,100 percent increase.”

The problem is also felt in Oregon’s fourth-most populous county, Lane County.

On average, there are now only two deputies patrolling Lane County because of budget cuts, said Lane County District Attorney Alex Gardner, noting the county is the size of the state of Connecticut.

“We are not living in Mayberry anymore — we have serious crime,” he said. “But there is a point in which you can’t do more with less. And we are there.”

As a case in point, he said an emergency call came in of a burglar armed with a gun who had broken into a house one night east of Cottage Grove.

“It was a very high priority call and the nearest deputy on duty was 80 miles away,” he said. “That is the level of danger none of us should be willing to tolerate.”