Here is the link.
Congress has to get cracking; time is running out on timber counties
Three Oregon congressmen recently described on these pages the outlines of a plan aimed at breaking the impasse on federal forests and preserving basic county services across timber country. It looks promising, and we’re eager to see more.
Democrats Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader, and Republican Greg Walden, say they have worked through their differences and are preparing a bipartisan plan that would create thousands of new jobs by expediting harvest of previously logged forests, protect old-growth and critical wildlife areas and provide steady funding for rural schools, roads and law enforcement.
Of course, lawmakers have raised hopes for this sort of grand forest legislation before, only to have their best-laid plans go nowhere in the face of environmental opposition and congressional inattention. But now there’s an unmistakable fiscal crisis looming across timber country, where federal payments to counties have expired and some local governments could plunge into insolvency in the coming year.
The prospect of failing local governments and families fleeing declining rural communities ought to focus minds both in Oregon and in Congress. The issues surrounding federal forests and rural counties simply can’t be pushed off any longer.
The three Oregon congressmen seem to be headed down the right path. They describe a plan that would allow a steady and sustainable level of timber harvest primarily from younger second-growth forests. Sensitive areas and mature and old-growth forests would be set aside and protected. The forest lands open to harvest would remain under the ownership of the federal government, but be managed by a diverse, public board in trust for the counties.
Other elements of the proposal will appeal to those concerned with the future of the old-growth and other sensitive areas. The management of mature and old-growth forests would be transferred from the Bureau of Land Management to the U.S. Forest Service. The plan also proposes major new wilderness and wild and scenic river protections in key areas, such as the Rogue River area.
There’s a lot to like in this broad outline, but Oregonians ought to reserve judgment until the lawmakers fill in the details early next year. But something has got to change on the federal forests that cover half or more of many Oregon counties.
The status quo — the administrative gridlock and legal appeals, the drip, drip, drip of mill closures, the failing counties — threatens to hollow out rural Oregon. Already, falling school enrollments across timber country indicate that many families don’t see a future in these communities.
Of course, this congressional plan will trigger all the usual suspicion and reflexive opposition from those who have spent their lives fighting over activities in federal forests. But we still hope there is a place where most people can meet in the middle on federal forests, where timber harvest is carried out in a sustainable manner, where ancient trees are preserved, where rural counties can survive on stable federal timber revenues and fair contributions from local property taxpayers.
DeFazio, Walden, Schrader say they have put aside their differences and found that place in the middle. That’s good. Now they must lead the rest of us there.