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Wyden talks forests with constituents
Forest restoration and wildland fire suppression were on Sen. Ron Wyden’s mind when he visited Wallowa and Union counties Saturday.
The bill would dedicate funds for wildfire suppression instead of depleting the U.S. Forest Service’s general budget.
“The president announced he would accept a bill designed by (Idaho Republican Sen.) Mike Crapo and me,” Wyden told the Wallowa County gathering. “The government borrows from the prevention fund to fight the fire, then the problem gets worse.”
A lot of work has been accomplished by stakeholders across the Wallowa-Whitman National forest the last two years through collaborative meetings that have helped spur on forest restoration. Bruce Dunn, Wallowa County’s Natural Resource Advisory Committee chairman, asked if forest legislation considered by Congress would take that work into account.
Wyden said he applauded fresh approaches to forest management.
“We work with a collaborative of ideas from timber industry and environmentalists,” he said.
He said the collaborative work done in John Day saved a mill and has increased restoration on the Malheur National Forest.
“My bill emulates the massive success they’ve had. There are protections in place and litigation is down,” Wyden said. “I recognize we as Oregonians have these vigorous debates. Everyone likes trees. Some like them vertical and some like them horizontal, but at some point we can reach compromise and find common ground.”
John Williams, Wallowa County’s OSU Extension agent, said he was concerned about federal legislation’s effect on forestry.
“A few years back, the dirt foresters in the county determined how much of the federal land was available for active harvest and came up with 134,000 acres out of 1.3 million, or 10 percent,” Williams said. “Every time I see one of these bills, it has a balance side to put something in the wilderness area. Every time we do something that seems to allow us to do more work on the ground, we lose more land to management and it ends up in litigation.”
Wyden said there isn’t a perfect way to legislate better relationships on the ground.
“We try to find models where the parade of horribles doesn’t come in,” he said. “The poster child for this work is in John Day where Ochoco Lumber and the environmental people were in agreement. The cut is up and litigation down. That’s what my bill seeks to do.”
While Wyden was in La Grande, Brian Kelly, restoration director for the Hells Canyon Preservation Council, asked about the future of the East Side Forest Bill. Wyden stressed that compromise would be part of enacting that legislation.
“Nobody is going to get everything (they) want,” he said, adding that he is working to ensure Oregon does get everything it needs.
In discussing forest policy, Wyden said the area also provides a chance to look at sustainable resources like carbon sequestration and biomass.
Sen. Wyden again referred to these efforts when a Pendleton resident brought up her concern about family wage jobs in Eastern Oregon. Increasing timber harvest — on top of investing in other areas like health care, transportation, renewable energy and agriculture — can serve as an economic multiplier for the area, he said.
“This is the ball game,” he said. “This is really what I’ve been working on.”