Sen. Ron Wyden's framework calling for modernized legislation for the vast timberlands known as the O&C lands in Oregon represents a rare opportunity for all Oregonians.
These lands which cover approximately 2.4 million acres contain vast timber which 18 counties depend on for their fiscal health — and they contain some of the most pristine land and water habitat on earth for wildlife, fish, and all Oregonians. Everything that impacts these lands eventually winds up in a glass of clear, healthy water upon which nearly 2 million Oregonians depend. Senator Wyden's framework for new legislation creates an opportunity to better manage these lands now and to safeguard a quality of life for future generations. As he stated in his July 1 town hall meeting in Albany, he has no "higher priority" than this legislation. BHA agrees and we believe public lands should always remain in public hands.
As a representative of the national conservation group Backcountry Hunters & Anglers formed in Oregon, we recognize the need for sustained timber harvest. Our counties are hurting for money. Archaic legislation has led to unprecedented cutbacks in funding for public safety, schools, and a quality of life Oregonians depend on. BHA also believes that thoughtful timber harvest contributes to quality forage for wildlife. And, good management helps prevent fires, erosion, and other detrimental impacts on these lands we all own. We believe in a balanced use policy for public lands in a collaborative management strategy where wildlife habitat, land, and water receive equal priority with timber management. When all interests collaborate in a common goal we all benefit and this is the most important common goal all Oregonians need to understand now and for our future. We encourage Senator Wyden to author legislation that mandates a collaborative management approach to these lands. BHA believes logging can and must improve forage for wildlife without degrading streams, rivers and habitat.
As part of this new legislation, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers advocate for responsible use of off-highway vehicles on public lands and against illegal use. We support reducing open road densities where possible. Where the roads end, Oregonian adventures begin. We prefer to hike or pack in — the traditional way. It's the way that least impacts the habitat environmentally.
The history of these lands represents a snapshot of Oregon's early development. Railroads were enticed to build through the remote Western Oregon region in the late 1800's to complete a line between San Francisco and Portland and were given large tracts of land. Controversies about the management of these lands ensued and finally the federal government stepped in to take over the management of them. Early legislation required sustained timber harvest and environmental protection. But that was 1937. Logging interests eventually over-rode conservation interests. Then the spotted owl created a downturn in logging which created a downturn in sustained revenue to Oregon counties and a decline in needed public services. 76 years later, we need a new approach that demands better management of these treasured lands. But, there is one over-riding problem to their effective management and access to them.
If one looks at map overlays of these public lands, many tracts are divided, separated, and isolated amongst private holdings. This creates a hodge-podge of public lands versus private lands inter-mixed irrationally. And, that creates a management nightmare. In some cases, access is barred to these lands — and we all own them.
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers supports strategic consolidation of this checkerboard for the greater public good. Many feel we should trade one parcel for another and create a seamless boundary for public land. BHA generally supports that move. But, we feel any land exchange must reflect an equal or greater gain for traditional, non-motorized hunting and fishing access for the protection of wildlife and habitat — and for the benefit of all Oregonians no matter if they hunt or fish.
We are Oregonians. Our history is one of collaboration. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers stand ready to contribute, help craft legislation that is fair to all, and to help balance and preserve a legacy that benefits the needs of all Oregonians for generations to come. Our next glass of water depends on it.
Brian Jennings of Bend is retired from a 45-year career in radio broadcasting. He is a nationally recognized journalist and an author for Simon & Schuster Threshold Editions. He now serves as Sportsmen's Outreach Coordinator in Oregon for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.