Recent coverage on the plight of rural Oregon provides yet another call for our Congressional delegation to move quickly on a real plan to restore the health of our rural communities and federal forests through legislation that assures active, sustained yield timber management.

Last month Oregon state economists described to legislators a tipping point facing rural communities as its young people are forced to move elsewhere to find work. This news follows other troubling accounts of rural counties facing bankruptcy, urgent pleas for help to 911 operators going unanswered and catastrophic wildfires choking the air we breathe and the water we drink.

These are all symptoms of the paralysis that has crippled the management of Oregon’s federal forests and we simply cannot ignore the reality any longer.

Sixty percent of Oregon’s forests are managed by the federal government. Hard-hit Josephine County has nearly 75 percent in federal ownership. Harvest levels on our federal forests have dropped by over 90 percent since their peak in the 1980s, which has caused entire communities to unravel.

Unemployment rates of 10 to 15 percent are common along with poverty rates nearly double those. In many communities more than half of the school children are on free and reduced lunches. Rural economic stagnation and the resulting social turmoil are directly attributable to failed federal policies.

Oregon Congressmen Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden have developed a bipartisan plan to restore balance to the management of 2.5 million acres of Western Oregon’s O&C lands. These forests grow more than 1.2 billion board feet of timber annually and under law are supposed to be managed for timber production to provide revenue for local governments and jobs for rural communities. Recent harvest levels have averaged around 10 percent of the annual growth, or only 150 million board feet.

While we won’t return to the harvest levels of the 1980s, under the DeFazio-Schrader-Walden proposal roughly half of the annual growth of the O&C lands would be sustainably harvested each year. Their proposal would also conserve nearly a million acres of old growth forests, riparian areas and special areas that are all in the scope of the timber industry under the O&C Act.

Most importantly, their proposal provides certainty. Old growth stands and key Oregon treasures will no longer be threatened by industry lawsuits. On the other side of the coin, our rural communities will be able to count on timber harvests, albeit at modest levels, without the threat of endless obstruction from fringe groups.

It’s hardly surprising that environmental groups are resorting to predictable scare tactics to maintain their stranglehold on forests and rural communities. As usual, their scare tactics are false and misleading.

Their efforts are intended to dissuade U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden from supporting a plan that delivers certain timber harvests in favor of one that repackages the failed policies of the past two decades. These radical groups couldn’t care less if rural Oregon slips further into the abyss. Let’s hope Sen. Wyden rejects this callousness.

Mike Pieti is executive secretary/treasurer of the Carpenters Industrial Council, a Portland union representing workers in forest products industries.

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