Editorial: Wyden’s logging bill is a worthy step

Published Dec 13, 2013 at 12:01AM

While there are no doubt things to change in Sen. Ron Wyden’s, D-Ore., bill to increase logging on O&C lands in Oregon, there is this: The president has not, as he has with a U.S. House of Representatives bill aiming to do the same thing, threatened a veto.

Wyden introduced his bill late last month. It would roughly double the harvest of timber on the former Oregon & California Railroad lands now controlled by the federal government. Current harvest on O&C land, found in some 18 counties in the state, most west of the Cascades but including Klamath County, has averaged about 150 million board feet per year for the last decade. Under Wyden’s bill, that would jump to 300-350 million board feet annually.

It would do a variety of other things as well. It would set aside old-growth timber from logging, attempt to limit legal action designed to halt sales and model efforts to restore the land on research by foresters from the University of Washington and Oregon State University. The pair is experimenting to create what it calls “ecological forestry.”

The House version of an O&C land bill, included in a larger forestry bill and written by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River), Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Springfield) and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Canby), includes what has become a poison pill for the Obama administration.

It would turn management of about half the land over to the state of Oregon, a first for federal timberlands and something the administration is unwilling to allow.

Given that threat and the very real likelihood that the House bill cannot make it through the Senate, the Wyden measure offers a starting point from which to work.

It’s badly needed. Curry County, one of the 18 O&C counties, is teetering on bankruptcy these days, and it may take the state of Oregon and the state’s taxpayers to prevent that. Several other O&C counties, among them Lane, also have been particularly hard hit by logging restrictions on the land.

Wyden’s bill, even after appropriate changes, will not restore economic good health to Curry and other hard-hit counties. But it does provide the possibility of getting them off the critical list. That’s a goal worth fighting for.

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