Lawmakers scramble to fix the funding problem in Oregon's timber counties

 

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Seeking balance in Oregon's timber country

State and federal lawmakers are scrambling for solutions to the funding crisis in the southwest Oregon timber counties that have been hard hit by cuts in federal aid. A few of the proposals:

The O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act
This controversial proposal would move 1.5 million acres of federal forestland into a timber trust to fund the counties in crisis by clear-cutting under less-protective standards and bypassing the protections of the Northwest Forest Plan. The remaining million acres, including trees older than 125 years, would be managed by the Forest Service with some new protections. "This proposal isn't perfect, but we must move forward with specific legislative ideas before the failing Oregon counties become insolvent," said sponsor Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., during an April hearing before the U.S. House. Environmental groups reject the plan while industry groups support it. DeFazio has yet to introduce the bill.

Middle ground?
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the Democratic chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has not offered support for DeFazio's plan but is calling for increased timber harvest, increased county taxes and adhering to environmental laws. "My policy to end the perpetual roller coaster from revenue sharing includes new initiatives to create private sector jobs, protect the environment and, most of all, make sure rural America doesn't become a ghost town," Wyden recently wrote in The Oregonian. He has yet to offer any specifics on what his bill might look like. He's also working to extend the Secure Rural Schools payments to keep counties afloat.

"Shared responsibility"
Last year, a coalition of environmental groups, including the Geos Institute, the Sierra Club and Oregon Wild, called for a three-pronged solution to fund the counties: Increase county property taxes, increase taxes on private timber harvest and shift the BLM-managed O&C lands to the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which it says could save over $100 million a year.