As Congress prepares to adjourn next week, still unresolved is a pair of bills with wide-reaching implications for southern and western Oregon.
Over the past year, Senator Ron Wyden has pushed hard for compromise measures that would address long-standing conflicts over logging and water. But now those bills are in limbo.
Just over a year ago, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden unveiled his plan to solve the protracted tug-of-war over logging on Oregon’s so-called “O&C” lands.
Ron Wyden: “We have found a way to create good-paying jobs in rural Oregon and protect our natural treasures.”
The bill would increase logging on those federal lands to boost local economies and restore dwindling timber payments to county governments while offering protection for sensitive forest ecosystems.
A few days later, Wyden announced an agreement to settle a similarly contentious battle over water in the Klamath Basin.
Ron Wyden: “We now have a game plan for economic development, agricultural prosperity and environmental restoration throughout the basin.”
That agreement – hammered out by a stakeholder’s task force – sought to balance the competing water needs of fishermen and Indian tribes with those of farmers and ranchers.
Fast forward to this week. Congressional negotiators worked out a defense spending bill that featured a variety of non-defense-related measures, including money to expand the Oregon Caves National Monument. Missing from that spending bill was both Wyden’s logging proposal and his Klamath water bill.
Wyden blames House Republican leaders for blocking both measures but says he’ll push on.
Ron Wyden: “It’s my plan to keep pulling out all the stops to move these important bills forward as soon as possible.”
Why didn’t Wyden’s high-profile bills make the cut? Tom Partin likes to think he had something to do with that.
Tom Partin: “We are being very vigilant to make sure the Wyden O&C bill doesn’t get attached to some must-pass bill like the defense authorization bill.”
Partin heads the Portland-based American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry group. Speaking from Washington D.C., Partin says his group and others oppose Wyden’s bill because it fails to provide key assurances both local governments and the industry need.
Tom Partin: “We have to have some kind of certainties that it’s not going to be litigated, some certainties that you’re going to get the volume and the dollars back to the counties.”
Partin and his allies much prefer an O&C timber bill co-sponsored in the House by Republican Representative Greg Walden and Democratic Representatives Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader. Wyden drew up his bill after deciding that Walden’s bill couldn’t pass the Democratically-controlled Senate -- and the White House pledged to veto it if it did.
But now, Tom Partin thinks a version of the Walden bill could find a more receptive climate in the coming Republican-controlled Congress.
Walden aide Andrew Malcolm thinks so, too.
Andrew Malcolm: “You’re going to see a lot of members from Western states who are interested in reforming federal forest policy – Montana, Alaska, Wyoming, Colorado – and they’re going to have positions of influence.”
Montana, Alaska and Colorado each has a newly-elected Republican Senator who will replace a Democrat.
There’s no similar Plan B for Wyden’s Klamath Basin proposal. Walden – whose district includes the Klamath – hasn’t endorsed Wyden’s bill, and the Klamath County Commissioners and other groups oppose it.
But Jason Chapman – with the Klamath Cattlemen’s Association – fears the impact on farmers and ranchers if the measure dies.
Jason Chapman: “If we don’t move forward in DC with those agreements that we’ve brought up locally here, the farming community in the Klamath Basin is going to dwindle down.”
Chapman says his group hopes their endorsement this week of the Wyden bill will show Greg Walden that agriculture in the basin backs the agreement.
Congress plans to adjourn on December 12th after passing a handful of essential funding bills. If Wyden hopes to keep his proposals alive, he’s going to have to get more support than he’s managed to muster so far —and fast.