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Hyde 'positive' on O&C lands agreement

Columbia County Commissioner Tony Hyde said Monday, Sept. 23, he is hopeful the United States Senate will produce an agreeable bill to overhaul management of federal timberlands in western Oregon.

House Resolution 1526, introduced by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and supported by three of Oregon’s five members of Congress, passed the U.S. House of Representatives last week.

“The [Association of O&C Counties] board worked hand in glove with Congressman [Peter] DeFazio to help craft that bill, so it’s kind of our bill,” said Hyde, referring to the Democratic congressman who represents much of southern Oregon.

“We’re pretty positive about moving forward to the Senate side, and we’ll see what Sen. [Ron] Wyden can do with it,” Hyde added. “He’s in a very influential position right now, and I think that he can make it happen.”

Hyde is vice president of the AOCC board. O&C stands for “Oregon and California,” a reference to the Oregon and California Railroad that owned some 2.65 million acres of western Oregon land before they were placed under federal control in 1916.

While HR 1526 would make changes to the broader National Forest System, a specific part of the bill relates to the O&C lands in Oregon. That section would increase the timber harvest on O&C lands, relaxing federal authority over them and declaring them to be subject to more lenient state laws.

HR 1526 would also reauthorize federal timber payments, providing counties containing O&C lands — such as Columbia County, with nearly 11,000 acres — with a source of revenue without which many counties have struggled.

However, the bill has attracted controversy due to feared environmental impacts. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., who represents Columbia County in Congress, joined a majority of House Democrats in opposing the bill.

“As I have said many times, we need a legislative solution that can pass both chambers and be signed into law,” reads a statement released by Bonamici’s office after the vote. “H.R. 1526 includes many beneficial provisions, including an extension of county payments through the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act and expanded protection for some wilderness areas. But the legislation has no chance of becoming law, in part because it does not adequately balance economic and environmental priorities.”

Asked about Bonamici’s vote, Hyde said they will continue to work together on O&C land management.

“It didn’t need her vote,” Hyde said. “It was going to pass.”

Hyde added that Bonamici committed to work with Wyden, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on what she termed a “sensible compromise” that could pass Congress and receive President Barack Obama’s support.

The House and Senate appear to have agreement on a one-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools payments, with both chambers agreeing to versions of a bill to fund the national helium reserve with the extension language attached.

But while DeFazio hailed the House vote in favor of the amended helium bill Wednesday, he said in a statement that O&C counties still “need a long-term solution.”