Flaws behind Wyden’s Eastern Ore. forestry bill

By Tom Partin
American Forest Resource Council

Oregonians rightfully value political compromise when it comes to tackling challenges facing our state, and there are few bigger challenges than addressing the lack of economic opportunity and jobs in Oregon’s rural communities. Oregon’s congressional delegation recognizes that the key to fighting rural poverty in forested communities is to break the gridlock caused by years of failed federal forest policies. Whether it’s finding a solution for rural citizens in Eastern Oregon, or those living near Western Oregon’s “O&C” forestlands, it’s important to ensure the solution and its necessary compromises actually fix the problems associated with federal forest management such as planning efficiencies, litigation and funding. Otherwise it’s not a solution at all.

When writing about Sen. Ron Wyden’s Eastern Oregon forestry bill, The Oregonian editorial board correctly suggests the forest products industry is used to taking risks. In fact, timber-related businesses invest billions of dollars in Oregon workers and risk billions more in infrastructure to obtain, process and manufacture forest products used around the world. The people who make these investments live and work in rural Oregon and are particularly proud to provide the few family-wage jobs available in these communities. Because these businesses rely on a dependable and sustainable timber supply to stay open, the stakes in federal timber policy are incredibly high for anyone who depends on this cornerstone of Oregon’s economy. Unfortunately, Wyden’s eastside forest bill won’t break the existing gridlock and risks creating even more uncertainty.

That’s why we were disappointed that Wyden chose to move this eastside forest legislation in spite of the concerns and opposition expressed by an overwhelming majority of Eastern Oregon’s forest products industry and elected officials from nearly every county commission in Eastern Oregon. These county officials understand the desperate need for a vibrant industry and the jobs, taxes and timber-related receipts necessary to sustain basic services such as public safety, schools and roads. We aren’t disappointed because we got the short end of some political compromise. We’re disappointed because many concerns expressed by industry and counties were ignored, and frustrated to see the advance of legislation that doesn’t actually fix the problems in our forests and communities.

The Oregonian’s editorial on Wyden’s bill identified several problems that prevented us from supporting the legislation. Rather than addressing the ‘analysis paralysis’ and litigation that drives federal forest management today, the legislation adds multiple, complex layers of restrictions, processes, external reviews and new opportunities for litigation to a management process that is already broken. It’s no wonder the Forest Service has warned that the bill’s promised acreage harvest targets are unlikely to be met and may only result in “unrealistic expectations” here in Oregon.

The Wyden eastside bill also faces opposition from Eastern Oregon’s congressman, Greg Walden, who prefers the comprehensive, national legislation recently passed by the U.S. House to address roadblocks to active, sustainable forest management for the benefit of our rural, forested communities. Wyden has proposed his version of national legislation in the Senate, but it’s unclear if it will provide the certainty of jobs and county revenues that our rural, forested communities deserve.

With many Eastern Oregon communities struggling under high unemployment, poverty and crime that beset them since the near complete shutdown of federal timber harvests 20 years ago, we need meaningful solutions. The eastside bill, as currently written, is not an effective solution, but we remain hopeful Wyden will work with Walden, local elected officials in Eastern Oregon, and Oregon’s forest products industry to fashion meaningful solutions that address the problems, create jobs, and restore the health of our federal forests.

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