PORT ORFORD Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, fielded questions from about 50 citizens at a town hall meeting Saturday afternoon.
With decision time approaching on the Copper Salmon Wilderness at the headwaters of the Elk River, Wyden wanted last minute input from Port Orford citizens.
He also discussed issues such as prescription drug costs, commercial fishing, judicial appointments, the Endangered Species Act, and health care during the two-hour meeting.
Wyden said it had been only hours since hed walked out of the Senate chamber in Washington, where it was about 8,000 degrees and humid.
Hed already been in Lakeview in the morning, and appreciated the blue skies and fresh breezes of Port Orford.
Its great to be with you, he said.
Wyden gave everyone in the audience the chance to ask at least one question, and engaged in lengthy conversations with a few people.
Copper Salmon Wilderness
Wyden said the Senate is ready to begin action on the proposal. I hope for a real consensus.
He said he believes the proposed wilderness is in the public interest, but he wants everyone heard on the issue.
A citizen said if the Copper Salmon area is logged, the profits will go to loggers and timber companies from Roseburg. He said if it is declared a wilderness, the Port Orford tourist industry will benefit.
Wyden asked for a show of hands for and against the wilderness designation.
Only two people voted no, and Wyden asked them for their opinions.
How many national monuments do we need? said one of the two. We cant shut logging off for everybody.
Wyden said, There is a tremendous amount of economic hurt out there. It ripples through the community.
He said the real question, however, is what is a good package of economic development?
He said for forests, that means a multi-use policy, which he held out for in the federal county payments plan.
That means timbering, recreational and wilderness uses, side by side, he said, including selective cutting.
Its an issue reasonable people can differ on, he said.
Wyden has been taking comments on the wilderness through his Web site for several months. He said hell listen for about two more weeks, to give everyone a chance to have a say.
He also said he was the first Oregon senator to put offices throughout the state so his staff could get out and listen to citizens.
A rancher asked if Wyden has Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Oregon, on board on the Copper Salmon issue.
Wyden said he has talked with Smith about it, though not in the past two weeks, and will do so again. We will work closely on it, he said.
Port Orford forester Jim Rogers said he was involved with most of the logging done in the Copper Salmon area.
Timber and fisheries can be compatible in some places, said Rogers, but Copper Salmon isnt one of them.
He said most of the salmon in the Elk River spawn there, and that logging would damage the area.
Rogers said the Northwest Forest Plan had protected the site, but with a new administration, he fears a return to logging there.
Another citizen seconded that and urged Wyden to move ahead on the wilderness designation as soon as possible.
A woman said she was raised on timber dollars, but is now a wildlife biologist for the federal government, and a member of the Port Orford Watershed Council. She said that has caused her some problems at family dinners.
She thanked Wyden for supporting the wilderness, and for his amendment that helped watershed councils.
We cant degrade first and repair later, she said. Its expensive. Its easier to maintain it in the first place.
Wyden said, Ill stick up for you at family dinners.
Port Orford publisher Evan Kramer said resource industries like timber and fishing are in decline.
He asked what is being done about the situation.
Wyden said voters raised in metropolitan areas have no connection with resource industries.
Its like they think food just flies out of the sky, he said.
I dont want to see rural Oregon turned into an economic sacrifice zone, he said. I dont want to see that happen on my watch.
Wyden said that is why he worked so hard on help for cranberry farmers, a buyback bill for groundfish fishermen, and the federal county payments bill.
He said he thinks Portland is the greatest town around, and his one regret is not getting to play for the Trailblazers.
He said, however, I am not the senator from the state of Portland. He said most of the communities in Oregon have less than 10,000 citizens.
Another citizen said the federal government was enforcing the shrinkage of resource industries through international trade agreements.
Wyden said there have been certain instances of problems, but he said on balance, international trade agreements have benefitted the United States more than its trading partners.
He said America is a free market, but other countries have stiff tariffs on American products. He said trade agreements get rid of those tariffs.
Wyden said again that resource industries are in trouble because of the urbanization of America and Oregon.
Another citizen asked if federal regulations are being enforced to reduce fishing and timber in America to benefit foreign fishing and timber industries.
Wyden said he didnt know of any set of regulations that would do that.
International trade is not the problem, he said. We blame everything on globalization and international trade. Thats not a position I hold.
He said in China, its the military interests that dont want international trade.
Inflation and Education
A citizen said people throw money at problems, but dont get to the underlying problem of inflation.
He said if something isnt done about it, the United States will implode.
Wyden said inflation is running at about 3.1 percent this year. He asked if the man thought that was too high.
It should go the other way, said the man.
Wyden said as for things being bad in the United States, nobody wants to leave this country and go somewhere else, but everybody wants to move here.
He later added that seeing a town like Port Orford on a beautiful day, talking with such informed and involved citizens, I can assure you that nothing in Curry County is imploding today.
As for inflation, Wyden said it is always a concern, but thats the job of the Federal Reserve Board.
Increasing productivity, he said, is even more important, which is why he worked for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000, better known as the county payments bill.
Education is Oregons Achilles heel, he said, adding that most bright students go to out-of-state colleges.
After the meeting, it was pointed out to Wyden that the Oregon legislature blended the education money from the county payments bill into the regular funding formula, instead of passing it on to rural schools.
Wyden said hed done everything he could to see that the money went where it was intended to go, but that it was in the hands of the state legislature now.
He said the important thing to remember is that the bill secured $260 million a year for rural timber counties in Oregon. He said all but about $22 million of that went exactly where it was supposed to go, and that he could live with that.
Endangered Species Act
A citizen asked, given the timber situation and water restrictions for farmers in Klamath Falls, if Oregon is suffering from the Endangered Species Act.
Wyden said he voted to rewrite the act. I still have welts on my back, he said, from the reaction of environmentalists.
Wyden wants to take some decision-making power out of Washington. People in the beltway write one-size-fits-all rules, he said. It doesnt fit in the real world.
Wyden offered an amendment to let communities come up with their own plans to meet the provisions of the act. It was brutal politics, he said. It tied up my phones for weeks.
A citizen said, Urban makes the rules, rural bears the brunt.
Thats why Im spending so much time in rural Oregon, said Wyden.
Another citizen said 15,000 species go extinct every day, and asked if Wyden wants to do away with the Endangered Species Act.
Wyden said he has never wanted to do that. He wants to keep all fundamental environmental protections in place.
He said endangered species are important, and used the example of the Pacific yew tree, once thought to be a junk tree, now the source of an important cancer-fighting drug.
I want the implementation strategy changed, he said.
If local community plans can meet the rules, he said, that would be better than writing plans in Washington.
It would help to get good people out of DC and into regional offices to work with watershed councils and get more protection for endangered species, he said.
One citizen encouraged Wyden to support alternative power and conservation.
Wyden said the first step would be to restore cuts to those items in the administrations budget. He said the administration seems to be moving toward the center on the issue now. He said its own report attested to how much difference alternative energy can make.