U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, plans to introduce legislation next month that he believes will be the next step in the forest bill he championed in 2003.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, plans to introduce legislation next month that he believes will be the next step in the forest bill he championed in 2003.

While the bipartisan bill was aimed at helping reduce catastrophic wildfires near rural communities, the bipartisan Healthy Forests, Renewable Energy, and Job Creation legislation would give scientists and those managing federal forestlands the tools to reduce the potential of catastrophic fires farther from those communities, said Walden in announcing the legislation this morning at the Medford air tanker base.

In addition to reducing the unnatural buildup of forests choked with vegetation after more than a century of fire-suppression, the legislation would bring jobs to rural areas once dependent on the timber industry, said Walden, who represents the 2nd Congressional District.

"This is the next step," said Walden spokesman Andrew Whelan prior to the announcement. "It gives the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management the authority to do work in the areas where the big forest fires often start. It's an extension of that original (2003) act."

Basically, it would allow management tools made available in the 2003 legislation to be in areas farther away from communities where forest health is assessed as poor and where catastrophic fires often begin, he added.

The legislation would improve forest health by reducing fuel loads, bug infestation and disease; promote energy independence by expanding renewable woody biomass energy production and reduce rural dependence on federal county payments spending, Whelan said.

The legislation also allows forest waste from forest health projects on federal forestland to be used by the biomass energy industry, he said. It gives the industry the same incentives available to other renewable energy technologies, helping to attract clean energy jobs to the region, he added.

Moreover, the bill would encourage public schools and hospitals to install or convert to clean biomass energy, heating or cooling systems. It would require Forest Service and BLM facilities to be heated, cooled or electrified from the clean energy produced using the waste from the healthy forest projects promoted in the bill, he added.

— Paul Fattig