O&C Bill Progress

Here’s an article from Environment & Energy Daily on negotiations over the O&C bill. Our fellow blogger Andy Stahl is quoted.

 

Wyden staffers huddle with DeFazio, BLM to fine-tune O&C bill

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, June 6, 2014

A proposal to more than double logging levels in western Oregon while protecting old-growth trees, wilderness and rivers is moving closer to markup, according to bill sponsor Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Wyden’s staff met yesterday in Portland with Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and representatives of the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to discuss Wyden’s S. 1784, a bill to resolve decades of conflicts on the O&C lands.

“We feel very strongly about making sure we can have this effort, this joint product, ready for markup when [Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Mary] Landrieu (D-La.) holds the next markup,” Wyden told reporters yesterday. “I think it will be soon, but we will be ready.”

Wyden spokesman Keith Chu said yesterday’s meeting was “part of the learning and information-gathering process” and that it only involved congressional and agency staff.

“Senator Wyden wanted to hear from the agency officials on the ground who would be responsible for implementing the bill,” Chu said.

Brent Lawrence, a FWS spokesman in Portland, said the meeting was part of “an important ongoing dialogue on conservation and habitat management” and that Fish and Wildlife strives to educate lawmakers about the agency’s “responsibilities and limitations.”

Both Wyden and DeFazio have introduced their own proposals to increase timber harvests on the roughly 2.5 million acres of BLM-managed O&C lands, an effort aimed at providing financial security to the western Oregon counties that historically depended on logging for revenue and jobs.

Wyden’s bill calls for accelerating “ecological forestry,” which allows patches of clearcuts and is backed by key forest scientists and the Obama administration. It would also provide for streamlined National Environmental Policy Act reviews and some exceptions to wildlife surveying protocols in the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan, among other provisions.

DeFazio’s bill — Title III of H.R. 1526 — would allow a state-appointed board to manage about half of the O&C lands under mostly state laws. It would presumably allow much faster environmental reviews and less litigation.

Both bills contain similar provisions to designate wilderness, preserve free-flowing rivers and safeguard old-growth trees.

Neither proposal has garnered broad support from the environmental community, though counties and the logging industry have rallied around DeFazio’s proposal, which passed the House last fall. Wyden’s bill has drawn cautious praise from moderate environmental groups and timber officials and some county officials.

“Congressman DeFazio has been very constructive,” Wyden said. “The delegation is united that we have to get the harvest up in a sustainable manner. We need to protect our treasures. I think the delegation has come very close at having a product that will reflect that we’ve come together.”

DeFazio this week told E&E Daily that he was scheduled to make brief remarks at the beginning of yesterday’s meeting, but it is unclear what specifically was discussed.

“I am still working with Senator Wyden to finalize a balanced plan that can pass both the Republican-controlled House and the Democratically-controlled Senate so it can be signed into law,” DeFazio said in an email to constituents Monday. “While there has been a lot of noise surrounding this issue from both sides, this legislation is still a work in progress and I am confident that we can continue working with all stakeholders to finalize a plan that protects our conservation values and provides financial certainty for vital public services.”

Observers said they believe that Wyden and DeFazio are working to reconcile their bills.

Andy Stahl, executive director of the Eugene, Ore.-based Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, said it’s unlikely any bill to increase O&C logging will pass unless it has the support of both Wyden, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, and DeFazio, who is the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. The bill must also “pass the laugh test” of both the environmental community and O&C counties, he said.

That’s no easy task in Oregon, a flashpoint in the Pacific Northwest timber wars.

But county governments have been left financially depleted following the closure of timber mills and the recent reduction in annual federal payments from the Secure Rural Schools program, which is again expired. Wyden and DeFazio are under enormous pressure to find a solution.

Getting floor time in the Senate for an Oregon-centric problem will also be a challenge, Stahl said. It’s plausible that Wyden would seek to attach O&C legislation to a must-pass bill such as an extension of SRS. Such a bill would garner support outside of Oregon and must go through the Finance Committee.

The Obama administration took no position on Wyden’s bill during a hearing in February, though it did recommend changes to bolster NEPA reviews and endangered species protections. The administration expressed major concerns over DeFazio’s bill and threatened to veto the larger, mostly GOP logging package in which it was bundled.

Reporter Nick Juliano contributed.

3 Comments

  1. “The bill must also “pass the laugh test” of both the environmental community and O&C counties…” The lack of comprehensive support by environmental groups is that “environmental gains” are not sufficient and explicit. Moreover, there is the potential that this legislation will be the vehicle for other controversial legislation such as the Sealaska Corporation’s legislation on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. There, according to the Forest Service, the Corporation gets to trade low value old-growth timber for Tongass timber that is worth 300%-500% more — much of which comes from old-growth reserves which are critical to deer and wolf habitat. Most important, the environmental and economic tradeoffs of the Sealaska legislation lack transparency and have never been subjected to a federal public participation process. As expected most local communities oppose this windfall land grab, i.e. the “laugh test”. None find it amusing and all are resigned to the fact it is never over.

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