We don’t agree with U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, on everything. That said, we do believe his election to the top Democratic spot on the House Natural Resources Committee is good for some of the economically hardest hit counties in Oregon.
DeFazio is from one of Oregon’s O&C counties. Since 1937 much of their income has come from the sale of timber on land taken over by the federal government after the Oregon & California Railroad failed. That money dried up as the timber industry all but disappeared from Oregon in the last 25 years.
The 18 O&C counties include two, Curry and Josephine, that are nearly bankrupt, and several others, including Klamath and Lane, with severe financial problems. They have survived since 2000 on money allocated through the Secure Rural Schools Act, though that money has declined and the program ended earlier this year. So far, Congress has not seen fit to renew it.
DeFazio, a resident of Lane County, is well aware of the financial problems O&C counties face, and he has worked across party lines with Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, to try to solve them.
Having two members of the state’s House delegation, men from opposing parties, in positions of leadership within their respective parties should work to the timber counties’ advantage. While Walden can help bring Republicans along, DeFazio’s support of a solution may be critical in helping Sen. Ron Wyden persuade members of the Senate to move forward, as well.
DeFazio and Walden, along with Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, are working to gain approval of a bill that would set aside some O&C lands permanently, protect old growth and increase timber harvesting on a relatively small portion of the total 2.6 million acres.
Committee Democrats’ choice of DeFazio to lead them was no slam dunk, meanwhile. He had to fight off a challenge by Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, who had the backing of conservation groups opposed to the O&C proposal.
DeFazio and Walden have their work on an O&C solution cut out for them, to be sure. But with both men in leadership positions within their parties, the task may just be a bit easier.