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Reaction to timber plan mixed

Senator's O&C land proposal would result in increased logging

Portions of O&C lands in Western Oregon would be logged or set aside for conservation in Sen. Ron Wyden's plan.

Courtesy of office of Ron Wyden

Portions of O&C lands in Western Oregon would be logged or set aside for conservation in Sen. Ron Wyden's plan.

December 03, 2013

SALEM — Sen. Ron Wyden's proposed O&C land legislation introduced last week has received praise and skepticism — from both industry and environmental interests alike.

Wyden claims the proposal would double logging on the federal O&C lands — formerly owned by the long-defunct Oregon & California Railroad Co. — to between 300 million and 350 million board feet.

According to Wyden, the increase in logging would produce much-needed jobs in rural counties, including Polk County, plus the plan would limit legal challenges to individual timber sales. He also highlighted that the plan would designate half of the 2.1 million acres of O&C lands for conservation.

Senator Ron Wyden

Senator Ron Wyden

"We've had people saying 'no' to cutting anything to 'let's cut everything in sight,'" Wyden said in a conference call last week. "This is about showing that we can create jobs and still protect our treasures."

In a new, and very likely controversial aspect of the plan, Wyden is proposing using just two large-scale environmental impact statements (EIS) for all of O&C forests instead of a separate EIS for each timber sale. Wyden touts the strategy as a way to avoid the "perpetual gridlock that got us here in the first place."

The overall EIS would call for interested parties to hammer out an environmental review for all projects that is good for 10 years, with minimal ability to challenge unless extraordinary circumstances arise.

The harvest would be lower than that proposed in the O&C plan introduced in the U.S. House by Oregon Reps. Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden, but higher than the estimated current annual harvest of approximately 150 million board feet.

"That more than doubles on a sustainable basis the average harvest from the last 10 years," Wyden said. "If someone can get it higher than that, I'm all ears."

The House plan does, calling for about 500 million board feet per year, but Wyden has repeatedly said that plan has little chance of being approved by the Senate and signed by President Obama.

"We do not have (the) luxury of time in rural counties," Wyden said, noting the low level of harvest will only decrease further if changes aren't made. "I think it's too important to help rural communities. We have to get a piece of legislation passed in the Senate and signed into law."

Wyden's plan has the support of Gov. John Kitzhaber, Sen. Jeff Merkley and The Pew Charitable Trust. Conservation groups American Rivers, the Wild Salmon Center and Pacific Rivers Center have put support behind the plan. Timber industry representatives Stimson Lumber and Roseburg Forest Products, among others, also are behind the legislation.

Others are more hesitant to sing its praises, if not outright opposed to it.

The Sierra Club and Oregon Wild could be counted in the latter.

"Oregon Wild has worked has worked with Sen. Wyden many times over the years to craft balanced environment legislation," said Steve Pedery, Oregon Wild conservation director, in a statement. "But we must strongly oppose this bill because it is so heavily weighted toward clearcut logging and weakening environmental safeguards."

Jim Gahlsdorf, owner of Gahlsdorf Logging in Rickreall, gave the plan a 50-50 chance of being passed, and even less chance of truly ending lawsuits.

"Nothing has worked so far," he said.

Gahlsdorf said if it did come to fruition, he would be pleased with Wyden's promise of 300 million board feet per year.

"It would obviously place more demand on my services, which would be good, if I can find the people to do it," he said.

Even with his reservations Gahlsdorf is pleased officials in both the House and Senate are seeking compromise on O&C lands management.

"People are beginning to recognize that there is a tremendous asset that is not being used," Gahlsdorf said.