Wait for Wyden

The Obama administration last week announced its intention to veto the U.S. House of Representatives bill that would help to clear the logjam over how to manage federal forests in Western Oregon.

The announcement was misguided, for a couple of reasons.

First, it was premature. The legislation, which cleared the House last week, is widely perceived to be a nonstarter in the Senate. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has announced plans to draft his own legislation.

If the Senate passes the Wyden measure, it's possible that the differences between the two bills would be hammered out in a conference committee.

It would have been better for the administration to say that, while it had concerns over the House bill, it wanted to wait until it saw Wyden's proposal and what emerged from the conference committee.

In addition, some of the reasons the administration gave for issuing the veto threat were weak.

The bill includes a provision developed by members of Oregon's congressional delegation to turn over half of the so-called O&C lands in western Oregon to a state-appointed trust that would manage them for timber production.

The other half would be managed for fish and wildlife habitat. The measure also would create new wilderness areas and includes a federal subsidy for counties hard-hit by the decline in logging on federal lands.

The administration said the bill likely would increase the threat of lawsuits over the land, which must have seemed ironic to people who have been watching how legal actions have helped to contribute to the management paralysis in the first place.

The administration, to be fair, also said that the House legislation could harm habitat for endangered species and would limit the president's ability to create national monuments.

The problem is, of course, that these O&C lands are almost already national monuments to generations of federal forest mismanagement.

The bill that passed the House isn't perfect, by any means — but it represented the best shot yet at breaking through the morass. Wyden's proposal might be better; we'll see.

But the administration's decision to shoot off its mouth at this point in the process isn't helpful — and could end up jeopardizing any shot at a deal in the long run.

Share This Story