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Timber counties still waiting on Congress

GRANTS PASS — Congress won't be giving timber counties more logging on federal lands or renewed federal subsidies to make up for logging cutbacks. And there will be no grand bargain to solve the Klamath Basin's water woes.

None of Oregon Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden's bills addressing those issues made it onto the last major spending bill emerging from a lame-duck session of Congress.

That doesn't mean the issues are dead, and the political bickering remains high.

Oregon Republican Rep. Greg Walden said Wednesday that House leaders have committed to make each of them a priority in the next session.

"If the Senate would have acted on federal forest policy reform, it would have gone a long way toward providing a long-term solution to actively managing our forests to grow jobs and revenue," he said in a statement. "I'm confident we'll achieve a better and lasting solution under Republican leadership in the House and Senate."

Wyden expressed outrage that for the first time since he wrote the Secure Rural Schools Act in 2000 giving subsidies to timber counties, the House would be linking its continuation to their efforts to increase federal timber harvests.

"Rural Oregonians deserve better than to have politicians put on hold their priorities," he said.

The White House threatened a veto on the last bill from House Republicans calling for a sharp increase in logging across all national forests, saying it would jeopardize the habitat of endangered species, increase lawsuits and limit the president's ability to create national monuments.

It included a section from members of the Oregon delegation to increase logging on the so-called O&C lands in western Oregon that would have taken half the lands from of federal control.

Walden spokesman Andrew Malcolm said they hoped to come up with something that could become law.

"I think it's way too early to get into any details, but you are going to see proposals from both the House and the Senate, and at the same time recognizing the White House opposition to the (previous) bill. We want a viable solution and are going to be looking for the best way forward," Malcolm said.

Secure Rural Schools has sent a total of $2.8 billion to Oregon timber counties since 2000, including $107 million last year. Some counties have struggled to provide sheriff's patrols and jails since voters refused to approve tax increases to make up for declining payments under Secure Rural Schools.

The Secure Rural Schools program provided almost $7.2 million to Jackson County and schools in the county in 2013-14.

Counties with former Oregon & California Railroad lands have historically received payments from the federal government based on the amount of timber harvests on those lands. But with logging stymied by environmental disputes, the federal government has instead been paying millions to the counties to help mitigate some of the lost harvest funds.

In 2013-14, Jackson County distributed the money received from Secure Rural Schools by putting $4.75 million into the general fund, $1.4 million into roads and about $547,000 toward education. Another $474,000 went directly to county schools.

On the Klamath water deals, Walden has said removing dams from the Klamath River — a key part of the agreements — is a non-starter, though Malcolm said some of the agreements could move forward.

Wyden's Klamath bill would implement three different agreements.

It included one agreement from dam owner PacifiCorp to remove four dams from the Klamath River to help salmon. A surcharge on electric rates in Oregon and a California water bond have raised money to pay for it.

Ranchers and the Klamath Tribes agreed to share water in the Upper Klamath Basin during drought. The agreement came after ranchers lost irrigation when the tribes exercised newly granted water rights to protect fish.

A third agreement covers allocations of water to a federal irrigation project and endangered fish during drought.

Mail Tribune reporter Damian Mann contributed to this report.