Following a House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on Thursday morning to consider a proposal to revamp management of the O&C lands in Western Oregon, the trio of Oregon congressmen behind the plan expressed optimism.
"This hearing signals that this is a serious plan that is being taken seriously by the U.S. House of Representatives," according to a statement released by U.S. Reps. Greg Walden, R-Hood River; Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield; and Kurt Schrader, D-Canby.
The three are co-authors of the O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act, which they say will give an economic shot in the arm to the 18 Western Oregon counties that have been dependent for decades on timber-related payments from former Oregon & California Railroad Co. lands now under U.S. Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction.
Although noting the proposal isn't perfect, they testified it would create thousands of jobs, provide revenues for rural Oregon counties, protect sensitive federal lands and save the federal government some $1 billion.
In addition to the three congressmen, also testifying was Douglas County Commissioner Doug Robertson, chairman of the Association of O&C Counties; and Tom Tuchman, forestry adviser to Gov. John Kitzhaber.
Legislative hearings are usually required before bills are voted on by the committee and the full House, according to a spokesman for Walden.
During his testimony, Walden, whose 2nd Congressional District includes all of Eastern Oregon as well as Jackson and a portion of Josephine counties, said the proposal is needed now.
"Momentum is building for change — from county commission chambers to the committee rooms of the state Legislature to the halls of Congress," he said.
"We can put people back to work in the woods," he added. "We can create prosperous communities and healthy forests. We can provide certainty for teachers and law enforcement officers. We can better manage our forests."
The proposal is supported by the Oregon House and Senate, 15 boards of commissioners, the Oregon State Sheriffs Association and industry groups.
But Randi Spivak, vice president of government affairs for the Ashland-based Geos Institute, said Thursday in a prepared statement that the proposal was an effort to privatize federal forestlands.
"The logging trust would create 32 square miles of new clearcuts every year, dumping tons of sediment into rivers, degrading clean drinking water for 1.8 million Oregonians," she said.
"That could mean millions of dollars in increased water treatment costs," she added. "Ironically, the same residents of those counties the bill seeks to support would pay for water treatment upgrades."
The proposal would place the 2.7 million acres of O&C land into two trusts, with roughly half of it managed for conservation while the remainder would focus on sustainable timber production to help fund county coffers.
It calls for 1.47 million acres of previously managed timberlands to be sustainably managed to meet the federal government's obligation to the 18 O&C counties.
The plan would transfer management of older forest stands to the U.S. Forest Service for preservation and disperse timber production on the lands to meet the needs of mills throughout Western Oregon.
It would also add 58,100 acres to the Wild Rogue Wilderness Area in the lower Rogue River drainage. The proposal designates 93 miles of 35 tributaries to the Rogue as either "wild," "scenic" or "recreational" under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
In addition, it would withdraw 19 tributaries on the Rogue from mining as well as 11 miles on the Chetco River.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.