Our View: Cutting a deal

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden was in familiar territory last fall when he introduced his plan to increase timber harvests on the former Oregon & California Railroad lands: Smack in the middle.

On one side were environmental groups upset over more logging; on the other was the Association of O&C Counties, disappointed that the bill wouldn't restore enough money to make up for lost timber receipts.

Now a third group has weighed in: owners of sawmills who say Wyden's plan wouldn't provide enough logs from southwest Oregon forests to keep their plants operating and their workers employed. The mill owners prefer the plan drafted by 2nd District Rep. Greg Walden and Reps. Peter Defazio and Kurt Schrader because it would harvest 100 million board feet of timber from the Bureau of Land Management's Medford District and 550 million board feet across all BLM districts.

Wyden's plan, they say, would yield just 20 million to 40 million board feet for 10 to 20 years and less after that from the Medford District, which is the largest district in Oregon. That's less than the 57 million board feet target under the Northwest Forest Plan adopted during the Clinton administration, and even less than the amount a federal judge recently ordered in response to a timber industry lawsuit.

Wyden's office says those numbers aren't necessarily accurate, but there is no question the Wyden bill would result in less logging than the House proposal.

The House measure, however, will never be enacted into law. Even if it passed the Senate — a dubious proposition at best — President Obama has vowed to veto it because it would remove roughly half the O&C lands from federal control and place them in a trust to be managed for timber production.

The future of the legislation now depends on discussions taking place among the Oregon congressional delegation in an attempt to combine elements of the House bill and Wyden's plan.

Its seems evident that any plan that increases logging from current levels will bring the usual objections from environmental groups. It is equally likely that the timber industry and the timber counties will never see harvest levels as high as they would like.

The O&C counties, which include Jackson and Josephine, simply must manage to get by on less timber harvest revenue than they once enjoyed. That said, there ought to be room to ramp up logging to some degree, and the counties should benefit from that.

The industry points out that the Medford District grows more than 200 million board feet of timber every year. Annual timber sales have totaled less than 20 million board feet in recent years.

Harvesting more than is now being cut but less than the annual growth is a reasonable middle ground. The Oregon delegation needs to rise to the challenge and agree on a plan that can win approval from both chambers and from the White House.

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