DeFazio optimistic about securing county funds

By Charles Kocher, Pilot staff writer February 01, 2013 10:09 pm

With an Oregon senator chairing a key committee, and a report coming soon from the governor’s special task force, Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said Wednesday he hopes there will be movement soon on proposals to renew timber harvests on key federal lands.

DeFazio and Congressman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) have proposed pulling the O&C timberlands out of federal management, and splitting them into protected and production forestlands. The sales revenue would replace that lost since the 1980s, when environmental challenges stopped federal timber harvests.

Sen. Ron Wyden (R-Ore.) becomes chair of committee handling the proposal in the new Congress. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, has asked a task force representing timber, environmental groups and counties to make a similar proposal acceptable to all sides of the decades-old timber debate.

The idea still will not move quickly, said DeFazio. “Even if the governor threads the needle with the task force, and we can support it, and even if there’s a miracle and we legislate a change in management by the end of this year, we still anticipate it would take two years to gear up,” DeFazio said. “We have always felt that we would need a temporary bridge of (continued federal) payments to counties.”

DeFazio said he has been briefed on the work of the governor’s task force, describing the group as coming to “substantial agreement” but not consensus. He said the options included “substantial revenue” to counties, though not at the level when there were record timber harvests.

“The governor wants counties to be able to afford critical services,” DeFazio said. “The governor has been very emphatic that this plan will include regeneration harvest, but that it is not going to make the counties (financially) whole.”

Curry is not alone in its struggle to face choices between local taxes and cutting services, DeFazio said. Curry follows Josephine County, he said, followed by Coos, Lane, Douglas, Linn and Benton counties. 

Local problems, however, will not speed congressional action, DeFazio said. Even though he believes the O&C proposal will be a benefit to the federal budget, he said congressional action on the issue will have to wait while lawmakers go through tougher discussions on budget, immigration and gun violence.

Asked about the gun issue, DeFazio predicted federal rules will be increased to “at least the level of what Oregon has now,” including background checks. “It’s not going to be an easy task,” he added.