Editorial: Timber payments are only a short-term assist

It’s good news that county timber payments are likely to be extended for another year, but the welcome congressional action must not slow efforts to find a long-term solution.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, said it well: “This help is a lifeline, not a lifeboat.”

The U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously Wednesday to dedicate $329 million from the sale of the nation’s helium reserves to pay for a one-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools program. The Senate passed similar legislation last week. Oregon stands to get $100 million.

The Secure Rural Schools program, launched in 2000, sought to compensate for the loss of logging revenues caused by federal regulations. It was designed to diminish over time as regions developed alternative economies. At the program’s height in 2007, Oregon received $280 million. In 2012, the state’s take was about $100 million, with Deschutes County receiving $1.8 million, Crook $1.7 million and Jefferson $570,000. Before the most recent votes on the helium reserves, those were expected to be the last payments under the program.

A long-term solution has at least two parts: more local tax revenue in the most critically affected counties and more logging on public lands.

When voters in Polk and Curry counties go to the polls in November, they should approve increases in their low tax rates. Josephine County likely needs similar action.

And in Congress, legislation is needed to allow more logging on public lands, both to support rural counties and to improve the health of overgrown forests at risk of catastrophic fire. A bill passed by the U.S. House last week to do that was sponsored by Walden and Democratic Reps. Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader, but it faces opposition from environmental groups. Oregon’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden is working on an alternative plan that would allow a smaller increase in logging while trying to satisfy environmental concerns.

While welcoming the short-term help from Congress, we urge a realistic look at the condition of our forests and our rural communities. Responsible logging can solve both problems.