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Wyden's O&C bill may be the answer, or not

True to his word, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden is pushing ahead with his plan to boost logging on the former O&C Railroad lands in Western Oregon. And true to form for Wyden, environmentalists and the timber industry both dislike it. That's no guarantee he's on the right track, but this bill may have the best chance of becoming law.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced the bill on Thursday, despite objections from the timber industry, the Association of O&C Counties and some environmental groups. The industry and the timber counties say the bill won't deliver enough harvest, especially in the drier forests of Southern Oregon. The environmental groups say the bill would cut too many old-growth trees and hurt salmon and other wildlife habitat.

One notable exception on the environmental side is Andy Kerr, a longtime foe of logging, who is supporting this measure. Kerr says he doesn't like everything about the bill, but believes it's a better deal than what likely would emerge next year when Republicans take control of the Senate.

Citing Bureau of Land Management figures, Wyden says his bill would result in 400 million board feet of timber every year, twice the volume now being cut. The bill would set aside about half the O&C lands for conservation and designate new wilderness areas as well as new wild and scenic river designations.

Wyden's logging figures have been questionable all along, because he has declined to allow an independent analysis of harvest levels under his plan. The industry disputes the claims, and supports a House-passed  measure backed by 2nd District Republican Greg Walden, along with Oregon Democratic Reps. Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader. President Obama has threatened to veto that measure.

DeFazio says he wants to continue work with Wyden, Gov. John Kitzhaber and the rest of the Oregon congressional delegation to resolve issues with the bill in time to get it passed.

Wyden, who chairs the Senate Finance Commitee until the end of the year, may try to attach the O&C bill to a popular package of tax break extensions to get it through the House.

It's not possible to know at this point whether Wyden's bill will deliver what he promises, or whether he can push it through Congress before lawmakers adjourn for the year. It may be that some compromise between Wyden's bill and the House measure hammered out in a conference committee could be the answer, even if it happens next year.

But one way or the other, timber harvests must be increased from their current meager levels, for the sake of jobs and much-needed revenue for O&C counties, including this one. If both sides refuse to budge, the result will be more of the stalemate that has become all too familiar to everyone involved.