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Lawmakers seek 'meaningful comments' on new O&C plan

The public has been invited to weigh in on a draft plan written by three Oregon congressmen intent on revamping management of O&C lands in Western Oregon.

U.S. Reps. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, along with Democrats Peter DeFazio of Springfield and Kurt Schrader of Canby posted the proposal they call a "discussion draft" on their websites Thursday and asked for comments.

"We want their meaningful comments — the one criticism I have seen is that we haven't shared this," DeFazio said during a conference call with reporters on Thursday. "We're putting out something that is real," he noted.

While their 80-plus-page plan has been discussed with county officials and some representatives of the timber industry and the environmental community, the public hasn't had a chance to participate, he indicated.

"We think this represents the state pretty well," Schrader said. "But we don't pretend that it's 'our way or the highway.' We want real comments."

Dubbed the O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Plan, the proposal is aimed at giving an economic shot in the arm to the 18 Western Oregon counties that depend on timber receipts in lieu of taxes from former Oregon & California Railroad Co. lands now under BLM jurisdiction.

The proposal would place the 2.4 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.

The draft plan includes transferring 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 create a 58,000-acre wilderness in the lower Rogue River drainage as well as wild and scenic designations to protect salmon-rearing streams in that area.

There are no projections on how much timber would be produced, DeFazio said.

The goal is to integrate provisions of the plan into other legislation aimed at resolving the county timber payment issue, both DeFazio and Schrader said Thursday. However, they continue to fine-tune the proposal, they noted.

Walden was scheduled to join the press conference but was called away on other congressional business.

"We believe we have crafted a solution that will provide sustainablity," DeFazio said, adding that includes both the economy and the environment.

The proposal has evolved since they began working on the proposal and will continue to be adjusted as they move forward, he said, adding that substantive comments from the public will likely create more changes.

"I've been involved in this for over a quarter of a century," DeFazio said of the debate over how to manage federal timberlands. But both the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan and the BLM's Western Oregon Plan Revisions were based on harvesting old growth, he said.

"That has been the heart of the controversy," he said.

The proposal preserves the remaining old growth on the O&C lands, which would remain in federal ownership and be protected by state and federal environmental laws, he said.

"The goal is to take the old-growth controversy off the table," Shrader said. "It's time to use our natural resources in a thoughtful, sustainable manner."

The proposal thus far has received poor reviews from the environmental community.

"To generate the money needed to bail out county budgets in Western Oregon at current timber prices, Reps. DeFazio, Schrader and Walden would need to increase logging on public BLM lands by 400 to 500 percent," said Steve Pedery, conservation director for Oregon Wild. "The public won't stand for that kind of rampant clearcutting, and Congress knows it."

Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council in Portland, was more conciliatory.

"While aspects of this proposal are difficult for many in our industry to embrace, it is clearly a serious bipartisan attempt to end the forest wars that have crippled rural Oregon for nearly two decades," he observed.

To check out the draft proposal, go to defazio.house.gov, schrader.house.gov or walden.house.gov.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail pfattig@mailtribune.com.