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Sen. Wyden's Long-Awaited "O and C Lands" Plan Arrives

November 27, 2013

SALEM, Ore. - With Gov. John Kitzhaber at his side, Sen. Ron Wyden unveiled legislation Tuesday to change the way Oregon's O&C lands are managed.

It adds protection for some parcels of land and older trees, while at the same time, clearing the way for what some are calling "eco-forestry" and others say is "clear-cutting." The plan would increase annual timber harvest among the 18 O&C counties to more than 300 million board feet, when it's about half that now.

Tommy Hough, communications associate for Oregon Wild, said his and other conservation groups are disappointed, and think Wyden, D-Ore., was under significant political pressure to allow more logging.

"We see Sen. Wyden as an environmental champion," he said, "but we just must strongly oppose this bill, because it is so heavily weighted toward clear-cut logging and weakening environmental safeguards."

The bill streamlines the environmental impact statement process for timber sales, and allows a very limited time window to challenge a sale in court.

Wyden said he wants to achieve sustained timber yield to help Oregon's rural economy. According to conservation groups, these counties depend too heavily on a volatile timber market and land doesn't always have to be managed for resource extraction to bring value to an area.

Douglas County Commissioner Doug Robertson, who heads the Association of O&C Counties, said rural Oregon is trying to attract new business but it's been tough. In the meantime, he said they'll put Wyden's proposal under the microscope to see if it can provide a reasonable level of funding for the counties.

"We live among some of the most productive, valuable low-elevation forestlands in the world, and they're simply not being managed," said Robertson. "We watch 'em burn up, we watch them become susceptible to insect infestation, disease, wind throw and so on - and people are sick and tired of it."

The Association of O&C Counties already backs another bill by Reps. Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader, both D-Ore., and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., that would place about half the O&C land under state control for timber harvest. Wyden's bill keeps it all under federal management.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR