Aplan developed by three members of Oregon's congressional delegation that seeks to provide a sustainable supply of timber, more jobs and predictable income to Western Oregon counties was unveiled Thursday.
"We are not prepared at this point to lay out all the language," said 2nd Congressional District Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican from Hood River, at a news conference in Grants Pass. "There will be a public process for that so everybody has a chance."
Here are the highlights of the O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Plan laid out Thursday by the Oregon congressional delegation:
Walden was joined by Springfield Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio of the 4th Oregon District, a co-sponsor of what is billed as the O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Plan.
Another co-sponsor, Rep. Kurt Schrader, a Democrat from Portland's 5th District, was scheduled to join by Skype but the equipment malfunctioned.
The plan would replace the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, which provided annual timber payments to 18 Western Oregon counties but was not extended by Congress.
The payments were the result of the long-defunct Oregon and California Railroad Co. never making good on its grant terms nearly 100 years ago.
With the timber payments nearing an end, several Western Oregon counties, including Josephine, Curry and Klamath, are having tough times with other counties not far behind.
Although the congressmen gave few details about the plan during the press conference, DeFazio later shed a little more light during an interview with the Mail Tribune.
"What we are proposing has never been tried before," he said. "It is a breakthrough concept which has both strong environmental protections for areas critical to the environment but would also open up younger stands and other less sensitive O&C lands to more regular management."
It would be based on a board of trustees appointed by the governor, he said.
"The way we can sell it in Washington (D.C.) is the government is going to save money in the longer term and they are not going to have to send us money for counties to maintain vital services.
"For the environmental groups, it means permanent protection of old growth, and for the timber industry, predictability of timber supply," he added.
The news conference was held in an auditorium in downtown Grants Pass. Outside, some 60 members of Occupy Grants Pass chanted their opposition to war, corporate greed and environmental degradation on public lands.
Inside, the press conference continued without interruption.
"We are deeply concerned about two real big issues — counties are about to go broke in Oregon and people need jobs," Walden said. "We're trying to address both of those issues."
DeFazio noted the entire Oregon delegation and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber sat down at the beginning of the current legislative session to hash out what was needed in the plan. Oregon's U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, have taken the lead on trying to achieve a temporary extension of the county timber payment law, he said.
Until an agreement is reached among the delegation and others involved, the plan will not be released, DeFazio said.
"This is a very, very stark situation the counties are facing," Walden said during the press conference. "This is a desperate situation."
In addition to creating a long-term plan, bridge financing must be implemented before the replacement plan is up and running, Walden said.
The bipartisan effort in Oregon will help the ultimate plan that emerges pass the House, Walden predicted.
"I have to believe the senators in the Northwest would find a way to coalesce around something," he said. "We could work out the differences and get it down to the president's desk.
"We have always delivered for the state," he continued. "It has been torturous at times. It has been difficult at times. ... It is not easy to do. It can get darn right ugly."
DeFazio agreed, noting the plan is akin to the old silent movie where the heroine is pulled from the railroad track at the last second from an oncoming train.
"It's a bit like the 'Perils of Pauline' on the railroad tracks," he said. "The train has gotten really close before we had the ropes off her."
Jackson County is better off financially, observed Jackson County Commissioner John Rachor, who had met with the congressmen earlier in the day.
"I'm disappointed it will be two years or so before any money is going to be coming to these counties — it's going to be a long process," he observed.
He shed a little light on what may come out as a result of the plan.
"Nobody wants to talk about it because it hasn't been finalized, but it involves local control of the forestland," he said.
The proposed additional wilderness of some 58,000 acres on the lower Rogue is a "bargaining chip" with the environmental community, he said of opening up additional timberland. He was referring to the Zane Grey roadless area in the Bureau of Land Management's Medford District.
"Like most people in the industry, I have some reservations," said Dave Schott, executive vice president of the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association, of the plan.
"The problem right now is that nobody knows how it is going to shape out," added Schott, who was not at Thursday's session.
"This proposal has been made in three forms before and it never got legs," he said. "There is a lot of resistance in a lot of sectors. I don't see how it will be any different this time. All it takes is a stamp and letter, and things get held up again."
Eight environmental groups in Oregon, including the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and the Geos Institute, both based in Ashland, sent a letter on Monday to the three congressmen asking them for a more transparent and public process before moving forward with the legislation.
"Publicly commit to an open and transparent process before attempting to move any legislation that would alter the management of Western Oregon BLM lands — including scientific review and sharing of legislative language," the letter urged.
Any plan must be vetted with the public, legal scholars and the scientific community, it concluded.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.