The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing Thursday morning on a proposal by a bipartisan trio of Oregon congressmen to revamp management of the O&C lands in Western Oregon.
Citing the dire economic straits of the timber-dependent counties, the session was requested by U.S. representatives Greg Walden, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader. The three are the co-authors of the O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act.
The federal hearing about management of O&C lands before the House Natural Resources Committee can be seen starting at 7 a.m. Thursday, on the House Natural Resources Committee website at www.naturalresources.house.gov/live/.
The proposal is aimed at giving an economic shot in the arm to the 18 Western Oregon counties that have been dependent for decades on timber-related payments from former Oregon & California Railroad Co. lands now under U.S. Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction.
Those expected to testify include Douglas County Commissioner Doug Robertson, chairman of the Association of O&C Counties; and Tom Tuchman, forestry adviser for Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, according to Walden's office staff.
Beginning at 7 a.m. Thursday, the hearing can be viewed live on the House Natural Resources Committee website at naturalresources.house.gov/live.
The committee chairman is U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.
"One thing is clear: the status quo isn't working for our rural communities," Walden, a Republican, said in a prepared statement. "There's a better way.
"Our forests need to be managed so we can put people back to work in the woods, create healthy forests and communities, and provide certainty for essential local services like schools and law enforcement," he added.
Calling it an historic opportunity, Walden said there is growing support for changing the 1937 O&C Act.
"Momentum for changing federal forest policy has been building in Oregon's counties, the Legislature and in Congress," he said.
DeFazio, a Democrat, stressed that action needs to be taken soon.
"Some counties in western Oregon are on the brink of bankruptcy and are considering insolvency, or turning over their responsibilities to the state," he said. "If Congress fails to act, these counties will dissolve.
The Oregon Legislature is considering a bill that would allow the state to take over various functions from counties that face insolvency — including Curry and Josephine counties — and collect taxes from residents of those counties to cover the costs.
"We need to work towards a long-term solution, and we need to do it today," he added. "There is no excuse for inaction or delay."
The proposal would create jobs and provide predictability to the counties, he said.
Basically, the proposal would place the 2.7 million acres of O&C land into two trusts, with roughly half of it managed for conservation while the remainder would focus on a sustainable timber production to help fund county coffers.
There are no projections on how much timber would be produced from the 1.47-million-acre O&C Trust, which would consist of previously managed timberlands. The proposal calls for those lands to be sustainably managed to meet the federal government's obligation to the 18 O&C counties.
The plan would transfer management of older forest stands to the U.S. Forest Service for preservation and dispersing timber production on the lands to meet the needs of mills throughout western Oregon.
It would also add 58,100 acres to the Rogue Wilderness Area in the lower Rogue River drainage. The proposal designates 93 miles of 35 tributaries to the Rogue as either "wild," "scenic" or "recreational" under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
In addition, it would withdraw 19 tributaries on the Rogue from mining as well as 11 miles on the Chetco River.
The proposal is supported by both the Oregon House and Senate, 15 boards of commissioners, the Oregon State Sheriffs Association and industry groups. Some leading environmental groups have expressed skepticism about the idea.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at email@example.com.