Wyden needs to step up on timber issue

Ron Wyden likes to remind you that he's Oregon's senator. Suggest that his constituency is based in Portland and the Willamette Valley and he'll quickly inform you that he represents the entire state. Now he has a chance to prove it.

Wyden is the key to any hopes of making actual, real, significant change in the litigious stalemate that has largely removed the final word from the phrase "federal timber harvest."

There is a glimmer of hope that some real solution can be developed in the timber harvest stalemate, thanks to legislation moving forward in Congress, both in the House, under the watch of Reps. Greg Walden and Peter DeFazio, and in the Senate, where Wyden holds sway.

Walden, a Republican leader in the House, and DeFazio, the ranking Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, helped push a timber bill through that committee last week. The bill would place roughly 1.3 million acres of former Oregon and California Railroad lands into a trust that would be managed for timber harvests. The remaining 1.3 million acres would be set aside as conservation areas.

The House bill also would add protections for the Rogue, Chetco and Mollala rivers, establish new wilderness areas and renew federal timber payments to O&C counties, some of which are approaching bankruptcy.

Wyden has his own "framework for legislation," which mirrors portions, but definitely not all, of the House bill. The devil is the details, as always, but there's one big difference in the two plans that could derail the deal: Wyden does not support setting up a land trust that would be managed by the state. That raises questions about whether his legislation would accomplish anything meaningful — if the option remains for timber sales to be routinely stopped by lawsuits, how would anything have changed?

As chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Wyden is perfectly placed to make something meaningful happen. The timber issue is hardly the only big ticket item in his basket, but it is the item that means the most to rural Oregonians, who, frankly, have had little to be optimistic about in recent years.

Timber policy and environmental lawsuits have put most mills out of business in rural Oregon. With no trees to harvest, there are no boards to be made and no jobs for the people who once made them. Resource-based communities have no fallback answers: Tourism is fine, high-tech is fine, wine production is fine, but none of them create the kind of economic foundation that rural communities need, not only to prosper, but to survive.

Gone with those blue-collar foundation jobs is the blue-collar middle class. Rather than working in mills, working in the woods, driving trucks, providing supplies, the one-time blue-collar worker now lines up to apply for a $9-an-hour job at an outlet mall. There is a deep-seated desperation and anger among those families, feelings that in turn are directed at local governments that are trying to provide basic services.

No one is proposing the end of environmental regulation in the O&C forests; it is needed more than ever as humanity's presence envelopes the natural world. But any real change must provide a reasonable expectation that timber can be harvested when federal resource managers say it can be done in an environmentally sensitive way. Federal forest managers are not the tree cutters they were many decades ago; the senator should have some faith in his own federal employees that they can manage and maintain healthy forests.

There is for the first time in some 20 years the sense that maybe some rational change is possible. A major portion of the state — Sen. Wyden's state — would feel real hope if that change happens. But it needs to be more than legislative eyewash that feels good at first but in the end accomplishes nothing.

Oregon's leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike, have come together in support of a plan that would reopen a portion of the forests and put people back to work. We need one more leader, a leader who represents all of Oregon, to step forward and help make it happen.

The rest of the Red Lion story

In Thursday's Cheer and Jeers editorial, we gave a jeer to the secrecy that surrounded the sale of the Red Lion Hotel in Medford, noting that in the end it appeared the original purchasers, DHD (a group of Lithia Motors executives), wound up with a profit of $800,000. There's more to the story, Lithia Chairman Sid DeBoer tells us, and we're happy to set the record straight.

The property was purchased for $2.8 million and a news story last week said the main portion of the hotel was sold for $2 million to the Neuman family of Ashland, with the remainder sold to the city of Medford for $1.6 million. That may look like an $800,000 profit, but DeBoer said the real story is that the Neuman's portion was $1.725 million and that the money was loaned to the Neumans by DHD, with an agreement that the low-interest loan be paid back over time.

In addition, DHD paid for environmental studies, survey fees, consultants and closing costs, plus is funding the first $800,000 of improvements to the hotel. That all means, DeBoer tells us, that there will be very little profit, if any, by the time all the numbers come in.

As for the secrecy in the price, DeBoer says that was a stipulation for the sale put on them by the Red Lion, which is also in the midst of selling other properties and likely didn't want to show its hand to potential buyers elsewhere.

We've said all along that the Red Lion deal will be a good thing for downtown. This new information should help everyone feel better about the finances involved.

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