A Congressional proposal to increase logging on some federal forests in Oregon is a sensible approach to address the severe financial troubles of some of the state’s counties.
The bipartisan proposal was presented Thursday to the House Natural Resources Committee by Reps. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, Peter DeFazio, D- Springfield, and Kurt Schrader, D-Canby.
It would increase logging on one segment of forest and set aside another portion as wilderness area.
The land in question was originally given to the Oregon and California Railroad Co., but reverted to federal ownership with the provision that 50 percent of its timber proceeds would go to local governments. It is referred to as the O&C lands.
After environmental regulations severely cut logging, part of the lost revenue was replaced by federal payments under the Secure Rural Schools legislation. Although that program has been renewed repeatedly, most recently last year, the dollars provided have shrunk and renewals become more difficult.
Additional logging on the lands can help solve a severe financial crunch as well as reduce the risk of extreme wildfires. In a time of tight federal budgets and growing deficits, we can’t afford to turn away from this valuable resource, which can address county budget problems as well as provide jobs. Gov. John Kitzhaber is supporting the plan after a panel he convened failed to find a compromise.
Conservationists don’t like the proposal’s additional logging, which they say effectively privatizes half of the O&C lands. Timber interests don’t like the wilderness expansion in the Devil’s Staircase and Wild Rogue areas, because, in part, it means those lands could never be thinned.
Funds could also come from May votes to raise taxes in three of the most affected counties, and from a renewal of the Secure Rural Schools funding in Congress. Both could be important parts of a solution. But it’s foolish to reject a solution that pays for itself, as additional logging would do.