Tussle Over Timber Panel

A panel made up of cash-strapped county leaders, timber executives and environmentalists couldn’t reach consensus on dealing with logging on 2.6 million acres of western Oregon’s federal forestland, but it drew up some options to send to Congress anyway.

“The governor tried to spin the report that he sent to Congress as the findings of the panel,” says Steve Pedery of Oregon Wild, calling the proposal “a summary of the bad ideas that have been put out over the last several years.”

Oregon Wild was not invited to participate on the panel, Pedery says, because it is anti-clearcutting and also opposed a bill put forth by Congressman Peter DeFazio that proposed splitting the lands between logging and conservation, which Pedery says was the starting place for the timber panel.

Gov. John Kitzhaber’s panel was tasked with crafting a proposal for Oregon’s congressional delegation that would “help Oregon counties improve financial stability, ensure adequate sources of timber that support local mills and jobs, and meet Oregon’s water and land conservation goals.”

Defenders of Wildlife, one of the groups with representation on the panel, put out a statement Feb. 7 explaining its dissent with Kitzhaber’s approach, saying the proposal does not protect endangered species or provide adequate environmental safeguards, and the proposal “sets a dangerous precedent in calling for the transfer or sale of public lands solely in response to local economic needs.”

“Can you imagine what the Republicans would do with that precedent?” Pedery asks of the plan to transfer public lands out of public hands.

The forestlands in question are what are known as the O&C lands. Conservationists have long sought to protect the lands for their wildlife, water, fish and forests, while the timber industry has gone after logging revenues.  A portion of the funds from logging go to Oregon timber counties, and the money has been in decline.

Rather than telling counties to once again hope for a logging solution, especially at a time when many, like Lane, are considering bond measures and tax levies, Pedery says the governor should be pushing legislation to clarify county taxing authority. “The governor does have some power to advance real solutions here,” he says.

Pedery points to HB 2555, recently introduced by Rep. Paul Holvey (D-Eugene) in the Oregon Legislature, which he says “appears aimed at discouraging exports of raw logs and generating revenue to fund county services.” He adds, “As I read the bill, it would reinstate Oregon’s timber severance tax, which the logging industry successfully lobbied to eliminate back in the 1990s.”

Holvey’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the bill before press time.