We’re glad that timber county funds in budget

By Observer editorial February 16, 2012 01:58 pm
The president’s new budget proposal includes $294 million for timber counties and that’s welcome news here in Northeast Oregon.

Although it is unlikely that the Obama administration’s spending plan will be adopted by Congress without revisions, the inclusion of the federal aid in his proposed budget will help Oregon’s congressional members keep it alive during upcoming budget battles.

In addition to funding timber counties through the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, the president’s plan calls for four additional years of federal funding with the amount
declining each year by 10 percent from the year before.

The continuation of federal aid is absolutely critical for Oregon counties hurt by the steep decline in logging and timber sales.

However, members of the Oregon delegation will face an uphill battle getting the aid renewed.

Sen. Ron Wyden has pitched extending county payments for at least another year to give Oregon Reps. Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader time to develop a less costly alternative.

That alternative would designate about 2.4 million acres of federal land in Oregon as public trusts. Half of the acres would be designated for commercial purposes, such as logging, and the other half managed as conservation areas.

The expected revenue from the logging would replace the federal payments that counties have had to rely on.

Designating federal land in Oregon as public trusts and opening up half of it to logging and other commercial interests may not be the right solution but at least it would help fund our counties.

Environmentalists in Oregon have come up with their own proposal to generate money for timber counties.

Besides saving on forest management by transferring lands to the U.S. Forest Service, the environmentalists propose tripling state harvest taxes on private timber and calling on voters to approve higher property taxes.

Those measures, especially asking voters to approve higher property taxes, seem unrealistic during these tough times.

Another approach, perhaps the one DeFazio, Walden and Schrader are developing, will eventually replace the federal aid to timber counties.

In the meantime, keep that federal aid flowing.