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Big Day for Oregon’s O&C Lands

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

This Thursday (February 6) is an important moment for finding a balanced solution to the longstanding issue of Oregon’s O&C lands. That is the day that Senator Ron Wyden’s ‘‘Oregon and California Land Grant Act of 2013’’ (S. 1784) will receive its first hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

For too many years, the management of Oregon’s O&C lands has been in gridlock. The failure to come to any sort of resolution has hurt rural communities and has left long-term protections of water quality, ancient forests and some of Oregon’s most special places in limbo. Senator Wyden’s bill is a strong move to find a balanced solution.

Wyden’s Balanced Approach

The bill is not perfect: it needs some changes and additions and clarifications that we have identified previously and will hopefully surface during the hearing process.  But it shows genuine leadership and thoughtfulness by Senator Wyden. His bill strives to balance conservation and timber interests and creates a road map that could finally put more rural Oregonians to work in our forests while protecting our clean drinking water and wild places. The bill:

  • Permanently protects approximately more than 400,000 acres of ancient forests;
  • Creates two new wilderness areas – the Wild Rogue and Devil’s Staircase – totaling more than 88,000 acres;
  • Designates approximately 200 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers;
  • Creates six new primitive areas in Southwest Oregon (totalling more than 50,000 acres);
  • Expands – by  almost 6,000 acres –  the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument;
  • Establishes two new National Recreation areas – the Wild Rogue and the Mollala;
  • Creates new statutory protection for more than 80 special areas of environmental concern equaling more than 90,000 acres;
  • Designates a salmon and botanical area in the Illinois Valley – known for both its rare and beautiful wild flowers as well as its elusive but magical steelhead trout; and
  • Creates a ¼ mile buffer on both sides of the Pacific Coast Trail as it goes through these lands.

At the same time, it would double the current timber harvest on these lands using “ecological forestry” that will provide increased sustainability and create stable jobs for economically hurting rural communities.

Timing is Critical

Senator Wyden’s leadership on the O&C lands has been bolstered by his position as Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The timing of this hearing is important: he will soon be leaving that post to chair the Senate Finance Committee.  Senator Wyden will remain on Energy and Natural Resources as a member, but it is critical that we make progress towards a final bill right now.  We need him to continue to protect these special places while making some changes to ensure certainty and clarity for all moving forward.

Watch this space for an update on what happens during the hearing and to find out what you can do to bring protect our environmental legacy and create jobs in Oregon’s O&C lands.

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