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Oregon's O&C Lands Get Attention from Congress

PHOTO: Conservation groups are concerned that more timber harvest on O&C lands won't leave much to look at or enjoy. This is part of the Buck Creek timber sale in Douglas County. Photo credit: Chandra LaGue
PHOTO: Conservation groups are concerned that more timber harvest on O&C lands won't leave much to look at or enjoy. This is part of the Buck Creek timber sale in Douglas County. Photo credit: Chandra LaGue
July 31, 2013

PORTLAND, Ore. - Legislation by Rep. Peter DeFazio that allows a lot more logging on Oregon's O&C lands gets a closer look today in the House Natural Resources Committee. It's part of a bigger package of bills that proponents say would give steady income to rural counties - and opponents say would dismantle the public land management system that balances multiple uses.

Sean Stevens, executive director of Oregon Wild, described DeFazio's bill and one from Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., as throwbacks to the 1980s, when timber harvest was a primary goal on public land.

"We know the public lands are valuable for all sorts of things, from clean water to recreation," Stevens said. "Climate mitigation is becoming more and more of an issue. Resource extraction can play a role, but at the scale that Rep. Hastings and Rep. DeFazio are looking at, it just doesn't make sense for the future of Oregon's economy."

DeFazio, D-Ore., says his bill includes some permanent protection for old-growth forests and designates some new wilderness, while giving counties more timber revenue from the public land within their boundaries.

His proposal takes about half of the 2.4 million acres of O&C lands in Oregon and turns it into a timber trust that could be logged without having to consider at least some federal environmental laws.

Stevens said that ignores science and public opinion, adding that some rural counties are adapting to life without the boom-and-bust cycles of logging but others continue to complain.

"We're getting a little bit tired of hearing the federal government has somehow betrayed them," Stevens said, "despite the massive subsidies that they've handed out, and despite the fact that public lands in their backyard have been nothing but an economic boon for them - not just for resource extraction but through recreation and tourism."

One local resident, David Cordon, who farms in Douglas County, says they certainly need more revenue and industry but he doesn't see why any new laws are needed.

"I do think we need to increase logging, but I also believe we need to learn as we go and proceed ahead in a thoughtful, logical manner." Cordon adds, "We should honor the 1937 law that is already in place."

DeFazio's draft legislation was introduced more than a year ago, and this is its first committee markup. No matter what happens in committee, it faces a tough time in the U-S Senate, partly because of the other bills in the package.

The DeFazio legislation now is an amendment to Hastings' bill, HR 1526.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR