Obama to timber counties: Drop dead

President Obama has threatened to veto a bill that would increase timber cutting in national forests, providing a needed economic boost for Western rural communities.

Published on September 26, 2013 9:23AM


When New York City faced bankruptcy in 1975, then President Gerald Ford denied the city’s request for federal help, announcing he would veto any bill approving a bailout.

The next day, the front page of the Daily News blared “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”

Similar sentiments came to mind last week when President Obama threatened to veto a bipartisan deal worked out in the House that would help timber counties throughout the West, and make special provisions for land formerly granted to the Oregon & California Railroad and now controlled by the Bureau of Land Management.

If they become law, provisions of HR 1526 will create much-needed jobs in communities that have been struggling since the federal government cut back timber sales in the 1990s to protect salmon and the northern spotted owl.

It requires the Forest Service to increase timber sales to half the sustainable yield of the National Forest System, with 25 percent of the receipts going to the counties where the timber was harvested. In total, the volume of sales would double over the next 10 years.

It provides a one-time payment of $375 million to timber counties.

It requires the Bureau of Land Management to turn over management of 1.3 million acres of timber land in Southwestern Oregon to a board of trustees appointed by the state, and operating under state law. The land is part of 2.4 million acres in 18 Oregon counties formerly granted to the Oregon & California Railroad that returned to federal government control in 1937 for “permanent forest production.”

The measure streamlines required environmental reviews of proposed projects. It would reduce, but not entirely eliminate, opportunities for environmentalists to sue to block the projects.

Plaintiffs challenging proposed sales and projects would be required to post a bond to cover the government’s cost of defending itself. If the challenge is rejected by the court, plaintiffs would be on the hook for the government’s legal bill. Failure to post the bond would cause the suit to be dismissed.

Now, there’s almost nothing in this bill that environmentalists back. They particularly don’t like the idea of turning over BLM land to the state of Oregon to be managed under its laws. They fear it could set a precedent that could lead to more federal land being transferred to state control.

But they don’t live in communities where mills have closed and the economic lifeblood has all but dried up. Oregon alone has 13 counties with unemployment over 10 percent.

Oregon Democrats who back the O&C measure, but not other provisions, say HR 1526 will be changed should it get a Senate vote. That seems inevitable, the Senate being more interested in serving the environmental lobby than hard-pressed rural families.

Unfortunately, we’re not sure what’s left would pass muster with the president.

A month after Ford made his veto threat, he changed his mind and backed federal loans for Gotham. We can only hope the present administration has a similar change of heart.


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