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  • Wyden's increasing clout bodes well

    Chairing Energy and Natural Resources Committee should benefit Oregon
  • Only God, we understand, can make a tree. But only seniority can make a chairman of the Senate committee overseeing timber, and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden rising to that position should be an encouraging development for Oregon's battered timber industry.
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  • Only God, we understand, can make a tree. But only seniority can make a chairman of the Senate committee overseeing timber, and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden rising to that position should be an encouraging development for Oregon's battered timber industry.
    Two major Oregon timber initiatives, on a waiting list for literally years, might now get some Senate focus. Oregon's forests, and the people who live near them, could use the attention.
    Wyden will be in position to promote the Oregon east side timber proposal that he has long cultivated, a combination of protection and forest thinning developed in long negotiations with multiple stakeholders. "I'm going to do everything I can to get that out of committee and passed next year," said Wyden last week. "This is the first time we've seen a regional agreement between timber companies and the environmental community," an approach that he sees as a "national model."
    To Wyden, the steadily diminishing situation of timber east of the Cascades pushes the issue up his legislative list: "The reason it's going to be a priority is that if you lose the remaining mills on the east side, you lose the infrastructure."
    The way forward is less clear on Oregon's west side, where Democratic House members Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader and Republican Greg Walden have developed a plan to divide the extensive Oregon & California railroad lands, scattered through multiple counties, into protected and timber-producing areas. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has asked for reconsideration on environmental grounds, at the same time other congressional voices have objected to special consideration for Oregon — although the O&C land arrangement is peculiar to the state.
    At a time when counties in southwest Oregon are slipping rapidly toward financial collapse and inability to provide basic services, the priority for progress in Western Oregon can be no less pressing than on the east side.
    "I've met with the governor," says Wyden, "and told him my view that the bottom line for the issue of getting Oregon's counties off the fiscal roller coaster is Oregon finding important friends in other parts of the country."
    In the past, Wyden has worked to assemble county payments packages by finding common interests with senators from Idaho, and then with leaders from Nevada and New Mexico. Now he will be seeking connections with New England senators interested in support for wind projects and with the committee's ranking Republican member, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, which has its own natural resources and energy interests. The goal, he says, is to "stitch together a new, sturdier national coalition."
    When Wyden was the second-ranking Democrat on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, he didn't always see eye-to-eye with the retiring chairman, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico. Now, he won't always see eye-to-eye with Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, but there will be a common Northwest outlook.
    Although solutions are far from clear, Wyden's chairmanship could provide an opportunity and a possibility for rural Oregon, much of which has been in recession for decades, long before the rest of the country joined it. Timber will never be what it once was, but there should be ways to bolster what remains, as part of a package that also must include economic diversification and — as Wyden has also suggested — some local county tax increases.
    The core of rural Oregon's economics has long been natural resources, even as extraction's presence has fluctuated and often diminished. As the area seeks a new, stabler footing, we'll see how much a chairman's gavel also can be a resource.
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