Washington, D.C. – Oregon Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., today applauded the passage of legislation through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that would expand wild and scenic river and wilderness protections for lands in Oregon, as well as provide much-needed payments to timber communities through the Secure Rural Schools program. Both bills now are eligible to be considered by the full Senate.
The committee passed a one-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) to provide rural timber communities in more than 700 counties with payments totaling about $329 million for fiscal year 2014 – a five percent reduction from fiscal year 2013. The payments mitigate the severe impacts felt in these communities as a result of lost revenue from declining timber revenues on federal forest lands. Oregon would receive roughly $100 million, although the exact amount may vary depending on the funding formula and mandatory budget cuts.
“Secure Rural Schools payments extend a lifeline to resource-dependent communities that in many cases are perched on the edge of financial disaster,” Wyden said. “I’ve been working on a long-term answer to challenges for rural areas that can find common cause between the communities on the Gulf Coast and the timber towns in Oregon and other resource-dependent communities. But while that effort is underway, it is critical for rural counties to keep law enforcement on the roads, and teachers in classrooms, which is why it is so important to renew this program for the next year.”
“It’s great news that the Energy and Natural Resources committee has passed a one-year extension of county payments to help keep our rural timber counties afloat,” Merkley said. “This is an important bridge to building a sustainable harvest plan that will strengthen our timber economy.”
The program expired at the end of fiscal year 2012. The last payments were made early this year.
The committee also passed the Oregon Treasures Act (S. 353), sponsored by Wyden and Merkley, which would create new wilderness on land near Cathedral Rock in Central Oregon and Wild Rogue in Southern Oregon. It would also provide strong protections to a three-river system – the Rogue, Chetco, and Molalla – which are significant sites for recreation and together provide critical spawning habitat for several fish species. Following the committee’s passage of the bill, Wyden stressed the ongoing work to advance legislation to increase timber production and improve forest management on Oregon’s O&C lands.
“I’m working aggressively to develop new legislation for Oregon’s O&C lands and looking for opportunities to get the harvest up on both the O&C lands as well as on the forest lands. I believe that can be done consistent with sensible approaches with respect to environmental legislation,” Wyden said. “As we go forward on the O&C legislation, the lands in Western Oregon that were protected in the Oregon Treasures bill are going to be part of the balance that is going to be struck in the division of lands between conservation and harvest lands.”
“Oregon is a state full of natural beauty and wonder. I’m pleased to have cosponsored the Oregon Treasures Act that will preserve key areas across our state and ensure that future generations can witness the same natural beauty that is available today,” Merkley said. “Advancing through Senator Wyden’s committee is a crucial step toward making the Oregon Treasures Act a reality.”
Wyden is the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which will hold a hearing June 25 to consider the challenges facing forest management on federal lands.