Debate focuses on plans to improve economic climate
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber says he supports a jobs package circulating in the Legislature that includes bills to better utilize the state's natural resources.
But at a Feb. 23 press conference Kitzhaber, a Democrat, said he did not support a Republican-backed proposal to increase logging on state forests.
House Bill 4098 would increase logging on state lands from the current level of 50 to 60 percent of annual growth to 85 percent. Backers say it will add 2,000 jobs to the state, increase private sector revenue by $441 million and add $33 million to state tax revenue.
The bill on Feb. 14 was sent from the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee to the joint Ways and Means Committee with a do-pass recommendation. It has yet to be scheduled for a hearing in Ways and Means, leaving some to believe it won't get a vote on the House floor.
Kitzhaber said the bill overlooks the fact the state recently increased logging on state forests. The state, he said, should focus on urging Congress to increase logging on federal lands, which make up the vast majority of forestland in Oregon.
"We have 9 percent unemployment statewide; much larger in rural Oregon," Kitzhaber said. "You're not going to solve this problem by increasing logging on 800,000 acres of state lands.
"And most of the (Oregon) communities that are suffering from the economic downturn are timber communities that are in landscapes dominated by (almost 17 million acres of) federal forests," Kitzhaber said.
"The solution is to ... change the management paradigms so we can begin to increase harvests on our federal land," Kitzhaber said.
The comments drew a rebuke from House Co-speaker Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg.
"I think it is a job-killer," Hanna said of Kitzhaber's opposition to the state forest logging bill.
"I agree that the state forests aren't as large as the national forests. We all know that," Hanna said. "But leadership, or leading the way in forest management, so that you could then say to the federal folks, 'Hey let's follow this great example being set by our state in forest management practice,' I believe is the way to go."
Also in the press conference, Kitzhaber said that he has requested budget resources to hire a full-time forest policy specialist. The specialist, Kitzhaber said, would "engage in the process started by our congressional delegation to increase logging on federal lands."
The O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Plan introduced by U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden, would increased logging on federal forests while setting aside more than 1 million acres for conservation.
"To me that is the long-term answer for rural Oregon," Kitzhaber said.
Asked if he would support increasing logging on state forests as a temporary fix to job growth until the federal legislation can be finalized, Kitzhaber said: "I'm not inclined to try to seek a short-term fix on our state forests.
"But I am very optimistic that we can by the end of this year put together a coalition and a consensus package that we can take back to Congress and hopefully begin to go for our goal, and that is to improve the health of our forests, and at the same time taking off fiber for mills and for woody biomass," he said.