At loggerheads again

Three Oregon congressmen are proposing a new plan to manage Western Oregon forestlands to generate a more predictable stream of timber sale proceeds for struggling county governments. The plan includes several things environmental groups say they want, including more wilderness protection.

So are environmental groups embracing the bipartisan proposal? No, a coalition of conservation groups have announced their own plan: raise taxes on the timber industry and on residents of timber counties, transfer responsibility for forestlands from the Bureau of Land Management to the U.S. Forest Service and perform "ecological restoration thinning" and other restoration work in the forests, which they say would create 2,000 jobs.

The congressional plan, supported by Democratic Reps. Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader and Republican Rep. Greg Walden, would permanently protect mature and old-growth forestlands by transferring them from the BLM to the Forest Service, and transfer other BLM land with younger stands of trees to a trust managed for the counties by a board of trustees appointed by the governor. The trustees would manage those lands to generate a sustained yield of timber while protecting water and other resources.

The plan also includes adding 58,000 acres of wilderness protection on the Lower Rogue River — long a priority of conservation groups.

Precise details of the plan have not yet been released, such as exactly which lands would be protected and which logged. Timber harvest volumes also are not yet quantified, although the Oregon Forest Resources Institute estimates the plan would create 12,000 jobs.

The environmental coalition says the congressional plan amounts to "clearcutting public forestlands," raising the specter of the over-cutting that marked forest policy before 1990.

In a statement, the three congressmen responded to the environmental coalition's plan, saying it's "simple and it won't work."

If all this sounds familiar, it should. The same debate has been going on for more than two decades.

The congressional plan offers several things the environmental community has long wanted: permanent protection of old-growth forests, 58,000 acres of new wilderness, and removal of timberlands from the BLM — an agency they have never trusted. In return, the plan proposes increased logging on some timberland, managed for sustained yield to produce desperately needed jobs and revenue for nearly bankrupt counties.

That might sound to most people like a reasonable compromise. But the environmental movement stopped compromising a long time ago.

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