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Wyden Achieves a Timber War Truce 

It really must be the season of peace and goodwill if timber company executives like John Shelk are posing for photo ops with environmentalists like Andy Kerr, the longtime nemesis of Oregon loggers.

That's what happened last week when Kerr and other environmentalists joined with representatives of the timber industry to announce agreement on a plan to resolve their differences and start bringing logs back into Eastern Oregon mills. Maybe the spirit of the season deserves some of the credit, but the bulk of it goes to Sen. Ron Wyden.

Wyden and his staff worked patiently for almost a year with environmentalists and the timber industry to get agreement on a plan that would provide protection for old-growth trees and forest health while encouraging the harvest of smaller trees through forest thinning projects. The result - a bill with the rather unwieldy title of "the Oregon Eastside Forests Restoration, Old Growth Protection and Jobs Act of 2009" - was rolled out at a press conference last Wednesday in DC.

Wyden Chief of Staff Josh Kardon described it as "the product of a hard-won compromise." As in any compromise, the supporters - including three timber companies, the American Forest Resource Council, and seven conservationist and environmentalist groups - both gained something and gave up something.

Wyden's bill would protect old growth trees by prohibiting the cutting of trees more than 21 inches in diameter at chest height. It also would bar the construction of new permanent forest roads and aims for a net reduction in such roads.

On the other side, the bill accelerates the forest thinning process - doubling the Eastside acreage to be thinned from the present 40,000 per year to 80,000 next year and up to 120,000 within three years - and makes it harder to tie up such projects with endless court challenges.

One thing that made the compromise possible is that environmentalists like Tim Lillebo of Oregon Wild have come to recognize that some trees need to be cut to make Eastside forests healthy again. "Back in the '70s and '80s, we said, 'Don't cut another stick.' But the science has come around to tell us, 'Hey, we have altered the forest, and there are some things we can do,'" Lillebo said.

Passage of Wyden's bill is far from a slam dunk. For one thing, it's going to cost money - $50 million in the first year, probably more later. The complex and controversial issue of how to manage salvage logging - the harvesting of dead trees after a fire - isn't even addressed. National environmental groups such as the Sierra Club haven't signed on; they want to see a ban on cutting big dead trees in salvage sales and protections for old growth forests, not just individual trees.

So there's a lot of haggling and horse-trading yet to be done in Congress before Wyden's bill, or something like it, gets to the president's desk. But Wyden has taken a huge first step toward breaking the logjam that has tied up Eastern Oregon's timber resources for decades, and for that he's earned the GLASS SLIPPER.


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