COOS BAY — As a controversial bill to turn management of federal forest lands over to Oregon timber counties heads to the U.S. House floor, it faces difficult reconciliation with similar proposals in the Senate.
The O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act passed the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday morning as part of H.R. 1526, sponsored by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.
The bill, first proposed in 2012, would create a public trust — controlled by a governor-appointed committee — to manage 1.5 million acres of federal timberlands for sustainable harvest on behalf of the O&C counties.
Another million acres of old-growth timber would change hands from the Bureau of Land Management to the U.S. Forest Service.
The bill is sponsored by Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, Kurt Schrader, D-Canby and Greg Walden, R-Hood River.
The Hastings legislation also includes an extension of the Secure Rural Schools Act, which compensates the counties for lost timber payment revenue.
“We’ve always said there has to be a transition period as the old growth is segregated and removed to Forest Service and the remaining stands of O&C lands moved to management,” DeFazio explained.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., also has proposed splitting O&C timber lands, but roughly in half, and divided between those intended for timber harvest and those intended for fish and wildlife habitat.
Wyden’s plan would keep the lands under the control of the federal government.
“We’re in about the same place,” DeFazio said. “The question is, ‘How do you get there?’”
The congressman said they expect the bill to reach the House floor this fall.
The 18 O&C counties are those containing lands formerly granted to the Oregon and California Railroad. When the railroad folded, the government repossessed the land.
In 1937, Congress passed the O&C Lands Act, which dedicated 50 percent of proceeds from timber sales to the counties.
Timber payments declined dramatically after increased environmental restrictions brought logging on federal lands to a screeching halt in the 1990s.
Reporter Thomas Moriarty can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 240, at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @ThomasDMoriarty.