Today, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to discuss a bipartisan legislative proposal from Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-Springfield), Greg Walden (R-Hood River), and Kurt Schrader (D-Canby). The plan would create thousands of private sector jobs in Oregon, provide stable funding for failing Oregon counties, and protect old growth and important places while saving the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Committee heard testimony from all three sponsors of the plan; Douglas County Commissioner Doug Robertson, chairman of the Association of O&C Counties; and Tom Tuchman, forestry adviser to Governor John Kitzhaber. Legislative hearings are generally required before bills are voted on by the committee and the full U.S. House of Representatives.
"This hearing signals that this is a serious plan that is being taken seriously by the U.S. House of Representatives," DeFazio, Walden, and Schrader said in a joint statement. "Any plan that would create thousands of private sector jobs, provide revenues to help failing rural Oregon counties, protect sensitive public lands, and that save the federal government $1 billion is worth considering. Today we had a serious, robust conversation about a realistic solution to the O&C crisis. This proposal isn't perfect, but we must move forward with specific legislative ideas before these failing Oregon counties become insolvent. We look forward to working with the Governor and the counties to incorporate changes discussed today, and we are pleased that the House took this needed first step."
Right now, several counties in Oregon are approaching insolvency and will not be able to provide basic state-mandated services to its residents -- such as law enforcement. Many of these counties have real unemployment at or above 20 percent. Poverty is widespread and crippling. Consider, for example, that in Josephine and Jackson counties alone more than 65,000 people -- or one out of every five people in the two counties including children -- are on food stamps.
Last February, DeFazio, Walden and Schrader offered a realistic, bipartisan legislative proposal to help solve the O&C problems. Their proposal would create jobs, provide revenues to failing Oregon counties, help sustain the local manufacturing base, save the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars, and protect water, fish, and old growth. Their bipartisan solution would designate a certain set of lands --previously managed timber stands -- for sustainable timber production to be managed by a public board and under federal laws as they apply to private and state forests. The rest of the O&C Lands -- old growth and sensitive lands-- would be transferred to the Forest Service and set aside for conservation. All lands would remain public, in federal ownership. That proposal was discussed in today's hearing.
The proposal secured broad support across the state, including: the Oregon House, Oregon Senate, fifteen county boards of commissioners, the Oregon State Sheriffs Association, and labor and industry groups.
Today's hearing was secured after DeFazio, Walden, and Schrader sent a letter to Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA) requesting substantive and open discussion about long-term solutions for the statutorily unique O&C lands.