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Time for Senate to pass bipartisan forestry bill

By Greg Walden

For the Capital Press

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden

Farmers know crops do best when they’re properly managed. Home gardeners know thinning plants and tending to pests in the family plot results in healthier crops. So why wouldn’t we fix federal policy to apply the same proven methods to our forests?

For too long, the federal government has failed to actively manage our forests. As a result, our forests are overstocked, bug infested, dying and burning.

It’s time for a change.

When we actively managed our forests and selectively logged our lands, we thinned forests and replanted trees for the next generation. Forest communities had family wage jobs. Fires weren’t what they’ve become today. Oregon is still recovering from its worst fire season since 1951. Last year, more than 9 million acres burned nationwide, and the federal government spent $2 billion fighting fires.

These catastrophic and deadly fires choke our air all summer long. And when the blazes are finally put out, not much happens. Virtually nothing gets harvested or replanted.

It’s time for a change.

Meanwhile, families and communities are literally going broke. Some Oregon counties face bankruptcy. Misguided federal policy has left children in forested communities in poverty and their parents out of work. Sixteen of the 20 counties in my district have 14 percent or more of their population living in poverty. Fourteen of these counties have over half of their children on free and reduced lunch programs.

Local governments can’t provide basic law enforcement. A lack of timber revenue in Josephine County, Ore., has left the county with only one deputy to patrol a territory bigger than Rhode Island.

It’s time for a change.

In Oregon, timber production from federal forests is down 90 percent over the last 30 years. In that time, 300 mills have closed, wiping out 30,000 jobs. This year, the Rough & Ready mill in Cave Junction closed after nearly 100 years. The owners were ready to invest $2 million in upgrades, but they said they couldn’t count on a timber supply off the federal ground that surrounds them. There went 87 jobs.

Enough is enough. It’s clear the status quo is not working for families in our rural communities. This broken system has to change. In the U.S. House, we passed bipartisan legislation to do just that. It’s time for the Senate to do likewise.

The “Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act” (HR1526) returns more active management to our federal forestlands. The bill requires foresters to determine the sustainable yield a forest could provide and then harvest half of that, and only on land that is suitable for timber harvest. It also limits costly and complex paperwork, and it requires that it be completed in a timely manner.

It authorizes expedited cleanup and salvage. Just like we clean up after floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes, it’s time that we cleaned up and replanted after forest fires.

This bill includes provisions specific to the unique Oregon and California (O&C) lands that put about half in a trust managed under the Oregon Forest Practices Act with a requirement to manage them for active harvest. This trust would stop the endless appeals and litigation that stall active forest management, and create jobs and revenues.

Time is running out on our communities and our forests. It is time for the U.S. Senate to act without delay. They should embrace our plan so that we can fix this broken system. The clock is ticking. Our forests are burning. Our counties are going bankrupt. Our people need jobs. It’s time to get this done. Rural communities cannot wait any longer.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, represents Oregon’s second congressional district, which includes 20 counties in central, southern and eastern Oregon.



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