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National agency lists timber law as priority

Oregon rural counties, including Columbia County, facing severe revenue shortfalls in 2012 due to expired federal timber-based legislation passed one hurdle last week when a national association that lobbys for county issues named reauthorizaion of the legislation as a top priority.

The National Association of Counties, or NACo, listed passage of federal Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Deterimination Act, commonly called 'county payments,' as one of its top seven issues to press to federal lawmakers.

Columbia County Commissioner Tony Hyde sits as a NACo board member and was at the Orlando, Fla., conference pushing for county payments to be included on the list.

A bill introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden that would extend county payments passed the Senate and is expected to be taken up by the House, perhaps before the end of the year. In its current form the bill would extend payments for five years to counties at current levels and ramp down 5 percent annually.

For Columbia County, that would mean a stark reduction from the peak payments of $2.4 million four year ago to the $650,000 received this year, a 74 percent reduction.

Hyde said the payment extension is a stop-gap measure. Long-term, a plan is in the works to place 2.4 million forestland acres in a trust, half of which would be conserved and half managed for timber sales that would bolster rural Oregon economies.

Rep. Greg Walden, of Hood River, is spearheading that effort.