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Groups: Last-Minute Changes "Gut" Wyden's Eastside Forest Bill

PHOTO: Would these Ponderosa pines and aspen trees in the Deschutes National Forest be "fair game" for logging under Sen. Wyden's Oregon Eastside Forest Restoration Bill? Conservation groups say they can no longer support the legislation with Wyden's most recent changes. Photo credit: Brett Cole
PHOTO: Would these Ponderosa pines and aspen trees in the Deschutes National Forest be "fair game" for logging under Sen. Wyden's Oregon Eastside Forest Restoration Bill? Conservation groups say they can no longer support the legislation with Wyden's most recent changes. Photo credit: Brett Cole
December 19, 2013

PORTLAND, Ore. - Sen. Ron Wyden has made some last-minute changes to his Oregon Eastside Forest Restoration Bill - changes that have left the conservation community stunned and disappointed. What was touted as an historic compromise for forest management shepherded by Wyden now contains language limiting the definition of "old-growth" to trees more than 200 years of age, cutting out some stream and watershed protections, and more.

Steve Pedery, conservation director for Oregon Wild, said it isn't at all what was agreed to in years of negotiations about the future of the six national forests in eastern Oregon.

"We had hoped that we would have a bill that set this model that we would work to restore environmental health and produce timber as a byproduct," said Pedery. "Having a Democratic senator from Oregon pushing legislation that says we're going to log trees up to 200 years old to pay for timber sales essentially subsidizes the timber industry. That's not a good precedent to have out there."

Exactly four years ago this week, Wyden and representatives of the timber industry and environmental groups shook hands and announced the "timber wars" were over as a result of this legislation. But it has been stuck in Congress since then, and Pedery thinks Wyden made the changes to appease Republicans on his committee - rather than the Oregonians who worked on the agreement.

"We understand the desire to want to get something done - but we should be trying to get the right thing done, rather than gut a really important piece of legislation like this, just to satisfy folks who are opposed to environmental conservation," Pedery said.

Senate Bill 1301 gets a mark-up today in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Wyden chairs. Six conservation groups have sent a letter to Wyden and the committee members outlining their objections and asking that the bill be set aside until what they call an "acceptable solution" can be found.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR