Local residents have two shades of green at stake as the Northwest congressional delegation works on a plan to increase timber harvests in Oregon. There’s the perpetual green that comes from sustaining this state’s forests — and also the green that is spent in the form of money.

In our view, both the environment and the economy can be enhanced if bipartisan legislation sponsored by U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader is approved in some form. This bill offers the first major opportunity in decades to do something about forest health while also improving the economy of rural Oregon.

So why should this matter for urban and suburban residents around Portland? For one, it will help relieve them of a financial burden that is the direct result of reduced timber harvests in this state. Oregon counties that previously were dependent on the timber industry have seen their economies damaged over the past 25 years as logging was dramatically reduced. As income and property taxes from those counties have declined, taxes collected in the metro area have been diverted to equalize funding for schools in other parts of the state.

Increased logging also can be viewed as a forest fire-reduction plan — if public land is managed carefully. Plus, many businesses here in the metro area have a direct economic tie to the timber industry.

The House bill sponsored by DeFazio, Walden and Schrader specifically targets the so-called O&C Lands in Oregon that have been supervised by the federal Bureau of Land Management. Revenue generated by the land — half of which would be opened to timber production — would offset the federal timber-replacement income that has been paid to counties since the time that logging was severely curtailed in the 1990s.

During several months of discussion about this legislation, water providers in Oregon have raised concerns about stream protection close to sources of drinking water. Officials from water districts in various parts of the state — including the greater Portland area — want to make sure any final legislation includes requirements for adequate buffers around these streams as logging occurs.

The O&C bill proposed by the three Oregon congressmen will be wrapped into broader federal lands legislation that soon will go before the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden is drafting his own forest legislation, which is likely to include more stringent environmental provisions.

The difference between the two bills, if both are approved by their respective chambers, will be settled by a House-Senate conference committee.

We see no reason, other than the potential irrationalities of partisan politics, why the final bill cannot serve multiple purposes. It should allow for substantial increases in timber harvests, provide more income to the 18 Oregon counties that have O&C lands, protect streams, preserve species and include management practices that reduce the risk of the very fires that have been burning our forests and endangering firefighters this summer.

More productive management of Oregon's timberland isn’t just an issue for disaffected communities that have been hurt by federal policies of the past 25 years. This is a chance to help all of Oregon — including the people who populate Tigard, Tualatin, Sherwood and other parts of Washington County.

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