The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on Senator Wyden’s O&C timberlands legislation earlier this month, a bill which the Senator introduced late last year and couched with, “Nobody will get all they want. Nobody will get all they think they deserve, but everyone will get what they need.” 

Testimony at the February 6th hearing supported the Senator’s quote. Forest industry advocates raised concerns about stability of harvest levels under the legislation and whether it will provide any certainty that litigation to stop or delay timber harvests wouldn’t proceed unabated. Environmental opponents to the bill objected with assertions about unraveling protections set by the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Senator Wyden, focusing on two principal critics in the hearing opposing the bill for different reasons, said, “It’s hard to see how the two of you can both be right. So the question, I think, is: Is it possible that you both may be a little bit wrong and that the other witnesses who have come here … that they may be right in terms of the effort to strike a balance?” The Senator aptly noted that if the legislation is to pass successfully, people need to find common ground and be willing compromise.

Representative Peter DeFazio, who helped steer a bill that has passed the House, but has little hope for passing in the Senate or being signed into law by the Obama Administration, also testified at the Senate Committee hearing. In DeFazio’s testimony, he acknowledged the “political reality” that the concept of a state-managed trust in the House bill prevents its passage and agreed to work on changes to Wyden’s Senate bill that would further increase timber revenues to the counties.

Both bills aim to solve a crisis in funding for struggling timber counties in southwestern Oregon by increasing logging on the so-called O&C lands in western Oregon. The House version splits the federal timberlands in two with half being managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and half being managed in a trust for timber production under the Oregon Forest Practices Act, which allows for more active logging with less scrutiny from federal environmental laws. Wyden’s bill also splits the land but keeps it all under federal control, which is where the uncertainty about harvest volume and a “lawsuit for every tree” comes into question.

Douglas County Commissioner and President of the 18-county association of O&C Counties, Doug Robertson, also testified at the Senate hearing, and hopes to see a blend of the bills drafted by Wyden and DeFazio.

Senator Wyden is pressing to get this legislation passed this year and end the “longest running battle since the Trojan War.” Wyden and DeFazio have pledged to work together to get an O&C bill through Congress this year and they and their staffs are on it. The time is right for new legislation and many rural areas of Oregon are in desperate straits as social safety nets unravel. Compromising has been and will be the problem between industry and radical environmentalists, but hopefully Oregon’s Congressmen can prevail and wrap up compromise legislation by the August recess so Congress can act on it in 2014.

From a Hampton perspective, the issue of certainty is key. If we don’t stop the serial litigation, we will put more land off limits to active management with no resulting increase in harvesting and rural Oregon communities will continue to suffer. We hope the spirit of collaboration will prevail before it is too late.

Steve Zika
CEO, Hampton Lumber