The broken promises of federal management of the O&C forests in Western Oregon have been a frustration for nearly three decades. Communities that were promised ongoing revenues from those lands have instead been forced to accept dwindling federal bailouts that are likely to end altogether.
It’s been an impossible knot. Caught up in federal land management rules, environmental groups have stopped logging, and thus the traditional revenues. Voters have said no to most taxes. Congressmen from outside Oregon have been reluctant to continue federal payments.
Meanwhile, both the communities and the forests have become less healthy.
But in this week’s annual visit by Congressman Peter DeFazio, we learned that an idea has surfaced which may hold the seeds of a longterm solution.
Just as they were once moved to federal government management, let’s move the O&C lands out of federal management to a special self-funding trust – perhaps on a lease. The terms could instruct the trust to permanently protect old growth and sensitive lands, to follow all applicable state forest regulations, and to manage the remaining lands to produce revenue and other benefits for the communities. The leading forest management experts in the Pacific Northwest are being signed up to demonstrate how it might all work. Environmental appeals would be limited by mandate.
And savings to the federal budget would be both the BLM management funds and the bailout funds.
DeFazio said he and Sen. Ron Wyden are working on this pragmatic solution, along with officials of the O&C counties. It is just an idea at this point, DeFazio is quick to point out; don’t consider any of the outline to be details.
Nonetheless, we are encouraged by the idea. It won’t be quick, but it holds out hope of a stable, sensible solution.