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DeFazio admits his timberland trust bill has little chance

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio has told a Senate hearing that he recognizes there's little hope of enacting a law that puts federal timberlands into a trust as the process to boost logging and timber county revenues in Western Oregon. But he added that Sen. Ron Wyden's bill aimed at the same goals needs some changes as well.

DeFazio testified Thursday in Washington, D.C., at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Wyden's bill. Both bills aim to solve a crisis in funding for struggling timber counties in southwestern Oregon by increasing logging on the so-called O&C lands in Western Oregon. DeFazio's has passed the House, and Wyden's has yet to come out of committee. There is no date set for the committee's next consideration of the bill. By that time Wyden is expected to give up his chairmanship to take over the Senate Finance Committee, though he would remain a member.

"Mr. Chairman, you have made it clear that a trust concept cannot pass the Senate and would likely face opposition from the Obama administration," DeFazio told Wyden. "While I still think there are benefits to a trust concept, I acknowledge the current political reality and believe our agreed upon principles can be legislated through a different construct — such as the construct proposed in your O&C bill."

DeFazio, D-Ore., said the various interest groups — the timber industry, timber counties, the public and conservation groups — still need certainty, including predictable timber harvests, logging revenues paid to counties and protections for special places, clean water, fish and wildlife.

Wyden, D-Ore., said the Senate bill "ends the 'stop-everything' approach that has paralyzed forest management and, at the same time it acknowledges that the days of billion-board-foot clear cuts are not coming back.

"It's fair to say that not everybody gets what they want here," he added. "But this is going to deliver what Oregon needs. It does so because it is designed to end the tyranny of these extremes. It ought to be a new day for the brave who are willing to try something new."

The House bill would split the 2.1-million-acre patchwork of federal timberlands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in two, with half going in a trust for timber production under the Oregon Forest Practices Act, which allows for much higher intensity logging with less public scrutiny than federal environmental laws. The Obama administration has said it would recommend the president veto the larger House logging bill containing the Oregon provisions. While some timber counties had favored the creation of a trust, some conservation groups opposed it.

Wyden's bill would also split the lands in two but keep them all under federal control, though with some relaxation of federal environmental laws. It would double the current logging levels but still not fill a $35 million funding gap for timber counties.

A federal safety net intended to ease the pain of a 90 percent logging cutback in the 1990s to protect spotted owls and salmon expired after ramping down for years.

The BLM, which manages the lands, expressed concerns about the bill but expressed its willingness to work with Wyden.

A copy of the testimony of Steve Ellis, BLM deputy director of operations, posted on the committee website, said one BLM concern is that the bill could allow a logging project to go forward even if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined it could jeopardize the survival of a threatened or endangered species. Another is that provisions to speed up approval of timber sales would not allow enough time for a full environmental analysis.

The BLM is "very concerned" that the bill would allow one environmental impact statement covering a large area to cover all projects within its boundaries for 10 years, despite any subsequent changes on the ground, the testimony said.

AP-WF-02-06-14 2342GMT