Governor John Kitzhaber Thursday convened a group of county officials, forest products industry representatives and conservation leaders to address challenges facing OandC counties in Oregon.

Kitzhaber has asked the group to build on existing proposals and develop recommendations that help Oregon counties improve financial stability, ensure adequate sources of timber that support local mills and jobs, and meet Oregon's water and land conservation goals.

He said he expects the group to create a proposal to take to the Oregon delegation and Congress early next year.

"We're not under any illusion that this will be easy," Kitzhaber said. "But the human and environmental costs of the status quo are unacceptable, and Oregonians have shown time and again their ability to come together to solve difficult problems.

"An Oregon solution that protects the environment, creates jobs in rural communities and helps restore funding for critical services is our best hope for OandC counties," he added. "We have the right people at the table to get it done."

Kitzhaber has outlined seven solution principles by which the committee will abide, including:

andbull;Stable County Funding andndash; Recognize OandC Act's unique community stability mandate and provide adequate and stable county revenues sufficient to meet needs for basic public services.

andbull;Stable Timber Supply andndash; Provide adequate and stable timber supply that will provide for employment opportunities, forest products and renewable energy.

andbull;Protect Unique Places andndash; Permanently protect ecologically unique places.

andbull;Durable and Adaptive Conservation Standards andndash; Maintain Northwest Forest Plan forest management standards andndash; Late Successional/Old Growth Reserves and Aquatic Conservation Strategy andndash; in an adaptive manner where and when required to comply with environmental laws.

andbull;Conservation Opportunities andndash; Promote conservation advances on private "checkerboard" lands through voluntary, non-regulatory incentives andndash; financial, technical, regulatory relief, etc.

andbull;Federal Budget Neutral andndash; Recognize that OandC solution will need to be budget neutral or positive at the Federal level.

andbull;Achieve Certainty andndash; Develop a policy framework that will provide for certainty in achieving all of these principles.

OandC county commissioner representatives are Doug Robertson of Douglas County Tony Hyde of Columbia County, Simon Hare of Josephine County and Jamie Damon of Clackamas County.

Representatives from the conservation field include Greg Block of the Wild Salmon Center, David Dreher of the Pew Foundation, John Kober of the Pacific Rivers Council, Sybil Ackerman of Sybil Ackerman Strategies, Bob Davison of Defenders of Wildlife and Jack Williams of Trout Unlimited.

Representing the forest products industry include Allyn Ford of Roseburg Forest Products, Dale Riddle of Seneca Sawmills of Eugene, Jennifer Phillipi of Rough and Ready Lumber Co., in Cave Junction, and Ray Jones of Stimson Lumber of Portland.

Those 14 members will be assisted by John Ehrmann of the Meridian Institute.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley commends the announcement.

"I applaud the effort to bring together Oregonians to help find a way to preserve our rural communities, get people back to work sustainably harvesting and milling timber and protecting Oregon's forests for future generations," Merkley said. "I look forward to working with the governor, Sen. Ron Wyden, and the rest of the Congressional delegation towards a solution that works for Oregon."