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Walden supports Farm Bill -- reluctantly

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden will support the newly approved version of the Farm Bill passed by the Senate, but said Tuesday afternoon he is “disappointed” that certain provisions related to wildfire prevention were dropped from the final language.

“We made some limited progress,” the Republican congressman said while on a conference call with Southern Oregon media outlets and Southern Oregonians for Clear Skies, a group calling for more aggressive treatment . “And I intend to support it.”

The final text of the 2018 farm bill, which the Senate passed in a quick vote Tuesday, still has to pass the House. It includes a number of wildfire-related provisions, including expanding Good Neighbor policies to tribal lands and counties and increased funding to the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program.

But in the long process to compromise and with multiple missed deadlines, the Senate stripped out other provisions that Walden pushed for in the House — including expanding categorical exclusion to allow for more logging and provisions to expedite salvage after the fires are put out.

“I think it’s a mistake,” Walden said about the exclusions. “I’m disappointed. ... It just sets us up for further fires.”

Oregon’s Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley opposed the categorical exclusion expansion, which would have exempted pockets of land up to 6,000 acres from environmental-review standards if a logging or forest-thinning project was proposed there. They argued the provision would invite lawsuits from environmental groups.

Community members on the conference call mostly thanked Walden for his efforts and expressed frustration at the Farm Bill’s limited impact on Southern Oregon, which experienced some of the worst air quality in the country last summer because of wildfires.

“We’re getting killed, and no one seems to care about Southwest Oregon other than you,” said Dave Schott, executive vice president for the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association.

Walden said that his options to push for categorical exclusion and post-fire salvage in a now Democrat-controlled House are to work with fellow Oregon legislators, including Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Eugene, and proposing amendments on the floor “wherever we can.”

“We’re way behind the curve here,” Walden said.

Merkley and Wyden released written statements that celebrated the expanded funding to the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Programs, but did not mention other provisions for wildfires.

FILE / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS In this March 5, 2011, file photo, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., speaks to Republicans at the annual Dorchester Conference in Seaside, Ore.