Let's not miss this opportunity

and Kathy Peckham

Restoring the connection between our communities and forest management is a top priority for The Chamber of Medford/Jackson County. And now our region has a rare opportunity to restore this connection that we can't afford to miss.

The Bureau of Land Management controls more than 2.5 million acres of public forests in Western Oregon and is revising its management plan. The BLM is looking to achieve two critical goals: provide sustainable timber harvests to meet the economic needs of local communities, and protect our forests for generations to come.

Fortunately, these two very worthy goals are not mutually exclusive.

This revised management plan could restore 94 percent of the funding that Jackson County needs for critical services and restore lost jobs that fuel our economy.

The BLM plan outlines four alternatives, but only one, Alternative Two, appears to meet the terms of a previous lawsuit.

Alternative Two anticipates active management on 48 percent of the O&C lands with 52 percent either withdrawn for wildlife values or lightly managed for forest health. Some believe the percentage of managed land should be greater.

Alternative Two could create 3,500 local jobs in Oregon, provide $108 million annually for Oregon counties (of which Jackson County would receive $16.9 million), and would generate more than $2 billion in revenue in a 10-year period.

This plan takes great pains to protect critical wildlife habitat, making sure those habitats will be strong in the future, especially in light of the ever-increasing risk of catastrophic forest fires that destroy thousands of acres of habitat every year.

On the other hand, termination of the safety net in Jackson County means that $24 million in general fund payments to the county will be lost. This could mean a loss of 536 jobs, mostly county, for at least $13 million in lost earnings. Total government operations will decline by $25 million and the total impact on industrial outputs will be $46 million. County libraries would have no funding, and critical funding for the Sheriff's Department, the jail and health and human services would be significantly reduced or eliminated.

Alternative Two reconnects communities to forests. It maintains environmental protections, funds critical county services up to 94 percent of historic levels, reduces fire danger, provides for restoration after catastrophic events and increases jobs.

A 90-day comment period on the draft revisions ends Nov. 9. Jackson County citizens should get involved and write comments to the BLM supporting management of forests to benefit our county.

Brad Hicks is president and CEO and Kathy Peckham is immediate past chairwoman of The Chamber of Medford/Jackson County.

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