GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Sen. Ron Wyden is introducing his long-awaited bill to promote logging on national forests in Eastern Oregon.
The Oregon Democrat's Senate Natural Resources Committee is to take up the bill on Thursday in Washington, D.C.
Wyden's bill creates a 15-year pilot project to streamline forest restoration on national forests in Eastern Oregon, where many stands are thick with small trees that are of little value to struggling mills, but are a tinderbox for wildfires and insect infestation. It also produces timber to keep mills working.
Timber industry and conservation groups that had once come together to support Wyden's efforts are not so happy with the latest changes.
Tom Partin of the American Forest Resources Council said it puts ecological restoration ahead of economic considerations in national forest management. He added the bill would make it harder for the U.S. Forest Service to harvest burned timber after wildfires, and slow down restoration projects already underway.
"We need legislation that will address the needs of all of our national forests," he said in an email. "State-based legislation ...is not adequate for what is needed nationwide."
A bill to boost logging on national forests nationwide has cleared the House, but is given little chance of passing the Senate, and faces a veto threat from the White House.
Wyden's bill has languished since 2009, when he first introduced it to praise from members of the timber industry and the conservation community. Among them was conservation consultant Andy Kerr, who said the latest changes in the bill remove important protections for old growth forests, particularly along streams where they shade and cool the water for fish. He suggested changes were made to win support from Republican members of the committee.
Both Partin and Steve Pedery of the conservation group Oregon Wild complained they were not given any input on the latest changes.
"I believe this will cause every conservation group that participated with Ron to walk," said Pedery.
Wyden aides acknowledged that compromises were made to win the support of Republicans. But the changes to make room for logging some trees 150 to 200 years old to pay for restoration work that benefits the forest at large came from leading forest scientists concerned that important projects would not get done otherwise.
Wyden aide Keith Chu said forest experts such as Prof. Jerry Franklin of the University of Washington and Prof. Norman Johnson of Oregon State University firmly support the bill, and think it incorporates the latest science on protecting clean water and forest health.