One of the most important issues facing Oregonians is future management of 2.6 million acres of O&C forests. Under federal law, these lands are required by the O&C Act to be managed for sustained timber harvests for the economic benefit of nearby communities and to produce revenue for the 18 O&C counties. Conflicting federal policies and environmental litigation during the past 20 years have caused a steep decline in timber harvests. With little economic activity and plunging timber sales revenue, county governments have struggled to maintain basic public services, and thousands of jobs have been lost.

U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader have worked hard for several years to pass legislation that would improve management of the O&C lands. More recently, Oregon’s U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden has become active in the effort.

The Association of O&C Counties has been involved in every federal action concerning the O&C lands since 1926. As elected county commissioners, we have a direct stake in how these lands are managed since any policy change would have a dramatic impact on the Oregonians we represent. That’s why we were disappointed when Wyden’s spokesman recently referred to the association as an “extreme lobbying group” simply because we asked for independent experts to objectively determine the sustainable harvest and revenue for counties that would be produced under the senator’s O&C proposal.

Our request for transparency is very reasonable; the name-calling by the senator’s staff is not.

Wyden recently announced he intends to pass his O&C proposal through the Senate Finance Committee he chairs. To the casual observer, this might sound like good news. Yet at 163 pages, the legislation is laden with inconsistencies, new and untested regulatory requirements, undefined terms and ambiguities. Preliminary reviews from foresters suggest the bill actually would reduce future sustainable harvest levels to below current levels, further threatening businesses and jobs in our communities.

The federal government controls much of the land in the 18 O&C counties, constraining our ability to develop and diversify our local economies. We need legislation we can be confident will increase economic activity, not further hamper our economies and the ability of counties to provide minimally acceptable levels of public services.

We would like to be able to support Wyden’s proposal, but we are being asked to give up the O&C Act in exchange for a pig in a poke. His proposal must receive independent analysis by qualified forestry experts, just as several other proposals already have been analyzed in Gov. John Kitzhaber’s O&C Lands Report (2013). Everyone deserves to know the harvest and revenue levels that experts confirm would result from any proposed legislation.

We stand ready to work with Wyden on the basis of mutual respect to accomplish the principles supported by the counties, Kitzhaber and DeFazio, Walden and Schrader: Sustainable harvest volumes to support our communities, shared revenue with counties to support basic services, protection of environmentally sensitive lands and legal certainty.

Together, we can pass a solution that works for all Oregonians.

Tony Hyde is a Columbia County commissioner and president of the Association of O&C Counties. Faye Stewart is a Lane County

commissioner and vice president of the association. Simon Hare is a Josephine County commissioner and association treasurer.

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