GOLD BEACH (AP) – The chairman of the Curry County Board of Commissioners is pleased with Gov. John Kitzhaber’s plan to convene a panel of timber industry executives, representatives of hard-hit counties and conservation groups to find a way to allow more logging on federal land while protecting watersheds and wildlife.
“I see the governor’s proposal as a positive step forward,” Commissioner David Itzen said Tuesday. “It is time for Oregon to generate an Oregon solution to what is essentially a unique Oregon challenge.”
Kitzhaber said an existing proposal to revise management of what are known as the Oregon & California Railroad timberlands is doomed by opposition from conservation groups, which felt left out of a bill backed by Oregon Reps. Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden.
The governor said Friday he envisions a group of a dozen people who will meet weekly in October and November to craft a proposal, then will present it to the state’s congressional delegation by December.
Kitzhaber said having the presidential election settled midway through the discussions could clarify matters, such as whether Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, ascends to chairmanship of the Senate’s influential Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
“The governor understands that timber communities and rural economies need help and he furthermore wants to find a solution that Congress can act upon,” Itzen said. “The governor also wants to include as many of the divergent interests as he can in crafting a solution.”
The federal government owns 60 percent of the forest land in Oregon but now provides only 12 percent of the annual timber harvest, which generations of Oregonians depended on for jobs and funding for schools, roads and county services.
It’s crucial to find balance in natural-resource management, the governor said.
“Congressman DeFazio has endorsed the governor’s efforts,” Itzen said.
“I look forward as one Curry County commissioner to working with the O&C counties’ representatives on the governor’s panel and furthermore look forward to working as appropriate with the industry and environmental groups that will be involved,” Itzen said.
If ultimately approved by Congress, a deal on the O&C lands could be a first step in resolving a problem that has bedeviled rural Oregon for decades.
“I think there’s a larger narrative here about the future of rural America, and Oregon,” Kitzhaber said. “If the message is ‘we’re going to write it off,’ I think there’s going to be a significant backlash that could do much more damage to the fabric of our environmental laws than this issue alone.”
The decline of logging due to policy changes, endangered-species protection, lawsuits, recessions and other forces has greatly reduced timber revenue to a number of Oregon counties.
Congress supplied replacement funding with the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act beginning in 2000. The act was extended twice, ramped down, and a last round of emergency checks was delivered this year.
Some, including Curry and Josephine counties, have low property tax rates that aren’t sufficient to pay for services, and voters have been reluctant to approve tax increases.
– Pilot reporter Valliant Corley contributed to this story.