Obama threatens to veto timber bill

Carla Axtman

Communities in rural Oregon that were once flush in the largess of timber company revenues have been clamoring for legislation to allow greater timber harvests on federal lands. Earlier this year, Oregon Congressmen Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden sponsored that legislation, with DeFazio taking the lead. If passed, the law would allow for O&C timber lands to go into a trust that would be managed by the state, leaving timber harvesting regulated under Oregon's Forest Practices Act. In essence, this would sweep federal environmental regulation aside in favor of Oregon's much weaker laws.

But today, President Obama threatened to veto the bill carrying this language.

Interestingly, DeFazio seems to think the veto threat is appropriate:

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chief sponsor of the O&C lands provision, said if he were president, he would also threaten a veto, due to the controversial nature of three of the bill's four provisions, which are expected to die in the Senate.

He added he has negotiated in good faith for the best deal he can get from the Republican majority. He said he still hopes his O&C provision can move on to the Senate, where Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., can make changes that will make it acceptable to other Democratic senators, as well as the White House.

In fact, Senator Wyden has been working on an O&C lands bill that will go through the Senate, which contain a couple of important differences from the House version:

In his (Wyden's) proposal, counties dependent on federal forest payments would continue to get federal money during a transition financed by one-time revenues from the sale of the nation’s helium reserves. The House bill has no transition fund.

Also, Wyden said he is skeptical that the House bill’s proposed trust to oversee management of some western Oregon forest lands, based on state laws, can pass muster in the Senate. He said that would amount to “privatization,” and that leaving the lands in federal ownership – but with clear direction about how they are managed – is more likely to stand a chance of passing.

It's unclear if President Obama would support such a bill should it manage to land on his desk.

Counties have been receiving payments under the Secure Rural Schools Act since 2000, but those funds are drying up. Curry and Josephine Counties have the the lowest property taxes in the state and so far locals are refusing to raise them. This despite the prospect of losing public safety and other vital services.

I wonder what it will take for those counties to become sustainable AND to be willing to take care of themselves. We're not going back to harvesting old growth forests on public lands with gigantic diameter trees. Organizations/companies that still think like that are going to go out of business. The public doesn't want their lands managed for resource extraction and tourism for Oregon is a growth industry.

Counties have had 13 years to come up with new ways to restructure and develop. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that they're willing (or able?) to manage it.

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