Recreation, scenic value, will fuel growth of states economy

Mike Pieti’s recent opinion column in the Portland Tribune carries the often-repeated message that rural counties are suffering because of a lack of management in our public forests, and defends legislation to greatly expand logging in western Oregon forestlands.

The legislation in question, proposed by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio and co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden, would transfer 1.6 million acres of Western Oregon public forests into a “logging trust” with significantly weakened environmental safeguards.Dec. 18 guest opinion

To the hundreds of thousands of Oregonians who treasure our public lands, the continued push to “save” counties by logging them back into the Stone Age is incredibly frustrating.

Proposals to make up county budget shortfalls by liquidating public lands fail to recognize the more than 1.8 million Oregonians who get their drinking water from streams that flow through western Oregon’s Bureau of Land Management-managed lands. In recent months, a number of water agencies from around the state, including the Joint Water Commission, have sent letters of concern to Oregon’s congressional delegation over proposed clear-cutting.

Proposals to use clear-cuts to fund county budgets also fail to recognize Oregon’s modern economy is driven more by quality of life, tourism, recreation and scenic values than by clear-cuts and log trucks.

A recent analysis of likely job growth by Georgetown University found employment in recreation-related industries in Oregon is expected to grow by 31 percent by 2020 — far surpassing the expected 3 percent job growth in logging and related industries.

In addition, proposals for the future of Oregon’s public forests should be based on an accurate understanding of Oregon’s modern economy and where the greatest opportunities for growth are, not on a misguided desire to bring back “the good old days” of unrestrained logging.

The good news is Oregon does not have to go down this road. As he drafts his own legislation for O&C lands, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden should ignore calls from those who would like to take Oregon back to the kind of clear-cutting that ravaged our state in the past, leading to many of the problems we currently face still being addressed by regulations put in place by the Northwest Forest Plan.

Instead, Wyden should look toward a shared responsibility approach, where federal, state and local governments all take on a slice of the problem:

— At the federal level, continued short-term support through the Secure Rural Schools program or other federal payments is vital.

— At the state level, record numbers of raw logs are being exported to China, enriching logging corporations while they pay incredibly low property taxes and zero severance tax.

— A state-level fee on log exports or other timber tax reform could help struggling local governments and communities pay for the roads and infrastructure the logging industry uses, yet currently does little to support.

— At the local level, tax reform is needed. It is unrealistic to expect senators from other states to supply additional funding to support western Oregon county budgets when those counties enjoy some of the lowest property tax rates in the nation.

Wyden has the opportunity to chart a new course on county funding.

We hope he will ignore the siren call of those who see a return to rampant clear-cutting as the silver bullet for budget shortfalls and focus instead on more responsible solutions that ensure Oregon’s environment — and economy — will remain sustainable for decades to come.

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