The Curry Coastal Pilot

Bill sought to create jobs, protect old growth timber areas

A federal bill that would split the OandC timberlands of Western Oregon into production and protection will get attention - and possibly a vote - by the House Natural Resources Committee today.

The action comes just a week after Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), whose district includes the counties that might benefit most from the change, was named ranking member of the committee.

"After a year and a half of negotiations, the House Natural Resources Committee will finally move forward on our bipartisan, balanced OandC solution that creates private sector jobs, provides revenues to failing counties, and permanently protects old growth and other irreplaceable environmental treasures," said DeFazio. Fellow members of the Oregon delegation, Republican Greg Walden and Democrat Kurt Schrader, also back the bill.

The treatment of the OandC lands is part of H.R. 1526, formally known as the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, with Committee Chair Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash, as the lead sponsor.

Provisions of the bill also include restoring jobs in the counties that contain national forests, and extending the federal support payments that have been made in lieu of timber sales. Most of the bill is aimed at solving the OandC lands stalemate.

"The federal government made a promise over 100 years ago to manage our forests and provide a stable revenue stream for counties containing national forest land," said Hastings. "The government has failed to keep this promise and the impacts have been devastating for rural communities across our country."

The timber revenues-and later the federal support payments that replaced them - have been a core part of the Curry County general fund budget for decades. Without them, the county has cut employment, spun off services to nonprofit agencies, and now is trying to convince voters that additional taxes are needed to support sheriff's patrols, prosecution and juvenile services.

The language being considered would restore federal support at the 2010 level, according to Rocky McVay of the OandC Counties Association. For Curry County, that could mean a payment of just over $3 million next February - if the bill is approved by the full Congress.

The committee's "markup session" will be streamed live on the House Natural Resources Committee website at 7:30 a.m. PST today (July 31, with a vote to follow.