Counties with federal land set to lose aid next year
By MITCH LIES
A panel convened by Gov. John Kitzhaber to develop recommendations for managing federal forests in Oregon is meeting regularly and hopes to have a recommendation by mid-December, a representative of the governor's office said.
Tom Tuchmann, who is overseeing the panel, said the group's work could extend into January, particularly if good progress is being made.
The group of conservationists, county officials and forest product industry representatives is meeting to develop recommendations for managing Oregon and California Railroad Revested Lands.
Known as O&C Lands, the federally owned and managed lands comprise 2.6 million acres in 18 Western Oregon counties.
The counties, including some with more than 50 percent of their land base in federal forests, suffered significant revenue reductions the last two decades as federal agencies scaled back timber harvest to conserve habitat for the Northern spotted owl and other species that are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Counties receive a portion of timber sales on federal land.
Secure Rural School Act payments, or federal timber payments, were enacted in 2000 to help compensate counties for a loss in federal timber receipts. But they have been scaled back in recent years and are set to expire next year.
Kitzhaber asked the group for recommendations that will help counties improve financial stability, ensure adequate sources of timber for local mills and jobs, and meet Oregon's water and land conservation goals.
"We're not under any illusion that this will be easy," Kitzhaber said. "But the human and environmental costs of the status quo are unacceptable, and Oregonians have shown time and again their ability to come together to solve difficult problems."
Earlier this year, Reps. Kurt Schrader and Peter DeFazio, both D-Ore., and Greg Walden, R-Ore., floated a proposal to set aside a little over 1 million acres of O&C Lands for conservation and set up a trust to manage about 1.5 million acres for timber production.
The proposal has yet to receive a congressional hearing.
The governor-convened group includes four county commissioners, four forest products industry representatives and six members identified as conservationists.
Kitzhaber said he expects the group to craft a proposal to take to Oregon's congressional delegation in early 2013.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., in a press release, commended Kitzhaber for convening the panel.
"I applaud the governor's effort to bring together Oregonians to help find a way to preserve our rural communities, get people back to work sustainably harvesting and milling timber, and protect Oregon's forests for future generations," Merkley said.