Timber by the numbers

Numbers, charts and assumptions are being brandished like swords as analysts compare U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden's timber plan with a House bill coauthored by Rep. Peter DeFazio.

The Senate natural resources committee, which Wyden chairs, sought to draw blood last week by touting the findings of an independent, nonprofit research group.

Headwaters Economics concluded that Wyden's plan could deliver as much revenue to cash-strapped counties as DeFazio's, even though the senator's proposal would cut fewer trees.

"Voodoo economics," replied DeFazio, using a zinger coined by George H.W. Bush in 1980, when timber came off the Oregon & California Railroad trust lands as fast as it grew.

If you believe "the devil is in the details," the fine points of the plans are a good place to search for the devil.

The thing is, details aren't bedeviling timber counties or the wood-products industry. Overall federal management of O&C lands has been the dickens.

Wyden nibbles at the problem. DeFazio bites its head off. No wonder O&C counties and the timber industry are skeptical of Wyden, while embracing DeFazio.

Wyden has asserted, with more gusto than proof, that his approach would lead to annual timber production of between 300 million to 350 million board feet, a doubling of current levels. Estimates for the House plan range from 400 million board feet to 500 million board feet.

The House plan offers a clear path to achieving the goal: let the state manage (but not own) 1.5 million acres of federal timberlands in Western Oregon.

Since federal polices produce so little timber, it's logical to assume the House plan will raise timber production, no matter the fine print.

The senator would retain federal management. He says Congress and the White House won't relinquish control anyway, so why bother trying?

His lack of enthusiasm on this matter contrasts with his willingness to clash with the White House, intelligence agencies and other senators over spying policies.

Lacking similar passion for increasing timber production, Wyden has settled for trying to make individual timber sales harder to stop with litigation and by employing logging principles developed by professors Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin.

It's not hard to imagine Wyden's plan backfiring and actually leading to lower timber production.

Environmental groups won't stop suing to block timber sales, and Johnson-Franklin principles don't stress maximizing timber production.

Even if the Wyden plan worked as advertised, O&C timberlands would be under harvested. Douglas County's wood-products industry would not be as strong as it should be.

Wyden calls his plan "first and foremost a jobs bill." Yet, the House plan would create more jobs.

The Wyden plan relies on federal subsidies to manage the timberlands and fund counties. The House plan would use timber receipts to do those things.

Wyden's plan may be able to contribute some good details to O&C reform. But the best big ideas are coming from the House.

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