Oregon's Congressional members are working on a plan that would dramatically increase logging on some federally-owned forest land in the southwest corner of the state. A House panel advanced a measure Wednesday that would allow increased timber harvests in struggling timber counties.
The bill is relatively small in scope -- it only applies to a couple of million acres of land formerly owned by a railroad company in southwest Oregon. But supporters say it's the trigger those communities need to break away from decades of economic decline.
Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio represents part of the area that would benefit from the ramped-up logging. "We need jobs in these rural areas. We need a tax base or a revenue base for these counties. I'm not going to say this is the sweet spot. But it's at the moment the best I can do."
Here's how it would work: Much of the land would be turned over to a trust managed by the state of Oregon. It would then be free of certain federal environmental regulations. The measure would set aside some land for wilderness protection.
But environmental groups say the upshot is going to be more clear-cutting in a part of the state where Oregonians have come to expect lush forestland.
"The logging solution is not the long-term solution," says Sean Stevens, Director of Oregon Wild. "Oregon's economy is moving beyond that and even in these rural areas, places that are close to protected lands, wilderness, that's where our tourism and outdoor recreation economy is coming from."
The measure could reach the House floor for a vote sometime this fall. It has the support of Oregon's only Republican in Congress, Greg Walden.
Meanwhile, Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden is working on a similar measure. The two bills would have to be reconciled in order to become law.