On July 31, the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee approved a forestry bill that includes a bipartisan plan to open more than 1.3 million acres of federally owned forests in western Oregon to revenue-producing harvests.
The Hastings Bill includes the plan developed by Oregon Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield; Greg Walden, R-Hood River; and Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, in which roughly one-half of the 2.6 million forested acres in the Oregon & California Railroad Grant lands — known as the O&C lands — would be placed under permanent protections. The remaining 1.3 million acres would be placed in a trust and managed to produce maximum revenues for the 18 Oregon counties that contain O&C lands.
The main body of the bill, titled Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, sponsored by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., would require harvest levels in federal forests sufficient enough to replace revenues currently supplied by the Secure Rural Schools program.
Enacted in 2000, the Secure Rural Schools program provides timber-heavy counties with direct payments intended to compensate them for the damage wreaked on local economies and tax bases by restrictions on logging on federal land. The payments have been extended several times, including a one-year extension passed last year. Hastings' bill would extend Secure Rural Schools funding for an additional year at 2010 levels, a $200 million increase over current safety-net funding, to give rural counties a bridge until additional revenues begin coming in.
This legislation would also help address the growing problem of wildfires on western forests. Last year, 9.3 million acres of national forest land burned in wildfires, 44 times greater than the roughly 200,000 acres harvested by the U.S. Forest Service. Tens of thousands of acres in Southern Oregon are burning right now. The largest, the Douglas Complex fire, near Glendale, has already consumed more than 40,000 acres. A good portion of the bill includes language that would require management of forestlands to prevent such catastrophic fires.
DeFazio's efforts to get the Hastings Bill successfully out of committee have been terrific.
We are all Southern Oregon members of the Regional Solutions Advisory Teams. Our task is to identify economic and community development priorities and solve problems at the regional level. Restoring healthy forests for healthy communities is clearly a vital regional economic priority. We applaud the efforts of DeFazio and Sen. Ron Wyden to secure passage of legislation that would achieve this important goal.
We urge rapid House passage of the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, preferably no later than September. We also encourage a quick final approval, by both houses of Congress, of this or a similar Wyden bill to come from the Senate.
Our forests are burning up, our counties and municipalities are in dire straits and our school funding is no longer secure. We are in strong support of DeFazio's and Wyden's efforts to remedy all three. We encourage you to be in support, too.
Keith Tymchuk is mayor of Reedsport. This guest opinion was also signed by six other regional leaders, including Bill Thorndike of Medford Fabrication.