Walden trying to break timber gridlock

By By Bill Rautenstrauch The Observer July 16, 2012 01:52 pm

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., made a stop  in La Grande Friday, meeting with citizens at a local restaurant and talking about his efforts to put more control of federal forests into local hands.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., made a stop  in La Grande Friday, meeting with citizens at a local restaurant and talking about his efforts to put more control of federal forests into local hands.

In a small business roundtable discussion, Walden (R-Hood River) talked about the Healthy Forest Management Act, legislation he is co-sponsoring that would increase state control over forest management in high fire risk areas to better protect and improve forest health.

The bill would allow states, in consultation with counties, to designate areas of high risk and develop emergency hazardous fuel reduction projects, including active timber management.

“We’re concentrating our efforts on forest management. The bill is passed out of the resource committee and it would require the Forest Service to more actively manage in trust with the state,” he said. “If we could get this into law, it would have a dramatic effect on communities and the economy.”

Walden said there is a need to manage forests in a way that reduces fuel loads while creating jobs. He said that currently, the federal government owns 60 percent of the forests in Oregon, but only provides 12 percent of the total harvest. He said the state appears to be doing a better job, with less.

“The state owns four percent of the forestland but is harvesting almost as much,” he said. “The bean counters can’t get their hands around the fact that the federal government is the only holder of timber that loses money,” he said.

Walden also spent some time talking about the need to reduce government regulations on businesses. He said he supports the REINS Act, a bill that would require congressional review of rules that would have an impact on the economy of $100 million or more.

“It would stop the rule writers from writing rules that put a stop on our economy,” he said.

Walden said he knows there must be regulations insuring clean water and air, but some rules are unreasonable and too burdensome on business owners. He cited unachievable rules that threaten a cement plant in Baker County, and others that could costs jobs at paper and pulp plants in Oregon.

He said that in recent times, more than 3,100 rules affecting business came out of the federal government. The proliferation causes hesitancy on the part of business people to invest in new projects.

“It creates an incredible amount of uncertainty in the markets. We’re saying, we need to use American resources, in a responsible way,” Walden said.

During a question and answer session following his opening remarks, Walden addressed issues including the death tax, the tax code, wildland fire attack aircraft, and more. 

At one point, he touched on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Travel Plan that was withdrawn this spring in the face of public protest. He said he hopes the Forest Service takes local viewpoints to heart as the plan is re-written.

“The Forest Service pulled back, and that’s to their credit,” he said. “They need to start over and have an open process where people have the confidence they’re being heard.”

He had some criticism for the process the Forest Service used in crafting the original plan.

“I can’t think of a time when the Forest Service strayed so far from what the public wants and needs,” he said.

Walden opened his talk at Joe Beans Coffee on Adams Avenue with a report on wildfires that were raging over the weekend near Vale in Malheur County and Frenchglen in Harney County. He said he had visited both sites, and he described some of the damage.

“The fire in Malheur County has burned over 500,000 acres and the one near Burns 100,000. It’s unbelievable out there,” he said.