By Taylor W. Anderson

The Bulletin

Bill in Washington — House Resolution 2647 would remove a provision that prevents the U.S. Forest Service from cutting live trees that are 21 inches or more in diameter.

History: The Bureau of Land Management delivered a proposed management plan for the more than 2 million acres within the Oregon and California Railroad lands in Western Oregon. The proposal found little support, and the bill if passed it would require the BLM to conduct more studies and offer other alternatives for managing the O&C lands.

What’s next: U.S. House passed the bill Thursday. Heads to Senate.

Read: Read the significant amendments online here: http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AG/AG00/20150617/103651/HMKP-114-AG00-20150617-SD002.pdf

With support from two Oregon Democrats, U.S. House Republicans passed a bill Thursday that seeks to promote more logging in federal forests and end the cycle known as fire-borrowing, where federal agencies fight fires with money meant to prevent them.

The federal government would begin to treat wildfires as a natural disaster on par with floods and hurricanes, allowing agencies to request emergency fire money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency when fire suppression budgets burn up.

The bill would also require anyone challenging in court a proposed collaborative forest management plan to first put up a bond covering some of the government’s litigation costs, a change from current law that Democrats say will prevent ordinary people from getting involved in forest management.

Oregon Democratic Reps. Peter DeFazio, of Springfield, and Kurt Schrader, of Canby, joined Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, in supporting the bill, which passed 262-167, largely along party lines.

“This bill takes that first step in ending that practice of fire-borrowing,” DeFazio said. “That alone gives this bill tremendous merit.”

Oregon’s representatives split on the bill that would also require the Bureau of Land Management to conduct further studies on a proposed management plan for Western Oregon’s federal forests known as O&C lands for the Oregon and California Railroad that once owned the land.

Walden said the effort in the House is a forestry reform bill that will help streamline planning processes and prevent costly lawsuits that slow down planning.

“Our communities are suffering. We’ve got high poverty rates. Our mills can’t stay open,” Walden said while talking with reporters before the bill passed. “We’ve got to fix this.”

If the bill passes the Senate, where it faces uncertainty, it would also change a provision put in place in 1997 known as east-side screens, which prohibits cutting live trees that are more than 21 inches in diameter east of the Cascades.

DeFazio and others said the diameter limit isn’t based on science and allows trees that are more susceptible to fire damage to crowd forests and put native tree species at risk.

“You have nonnative fir trees that are growing there because of repression of fires for the last hundred years. They’re 100 years old; they’re over 21 inches, but they’re growing in stands of ponderosa that are 200 years old. And they’re going to kill the ponderosa stands,” DeFazio said. “But the Forest Service can’t go in and deal with that issue. With this legislation they finally can.”

Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici, who voted with most Democrats against the bill, didn’t return a request for comment on their opposition to the bill.

Other Democrats said they supported most of the bill, particularly the provision ending fire-borrowing. But they opposed a provision that would make challenging forest plans in court more expensive and therefore, they said, prohibitive for ordinary citizens.

“I am glad that the majority acknowledges the urgent need to address fire-borrowing, but we still have concerns about this proposal,” said Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Massachusetts, adding the provision to require a bond before a court case was “essentially keeping out the average American citizen from having their voice heard.”

The fire-borrowing change is similar to a proposal trumpeted by Oregon Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, who have worked with Republicans to make that change in the Senate this year. Last month, Merkley helped attach the fire-borrowing change to a budget bill that has a high likelihood of passing later this year.

In a written statement, a Wyden spokesman said the House bill had issues.

“Senator Wyden agrees much more needs to be done to get the timber harvest up and strengthen the economies and communities near O&C lands,” said Hank Stern, adding “this House legislation risks restarting the timber wars and denying Oregon’s rural counties the lasting solution they so desperately need.”

— Reporter: 406-589-4347,

tanderson@bendbulletin.com

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