Rep. Greg Walden said he was hopeful legislation to allow more jobs on Oregon’s national forest could gain traction this year.

The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on a forest management plan Walden created with Oregon Democratic Reps. Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader.

Walden, speaking during a teleconference Wednesday morning, said the “O&C Trust, Conservation, and Jobs Act” builds on common ground and would create more than 3,100 jobs for Oregon counties struggling because of the lack of timber production in national forests.

“We have counties on the brink of bankruptcy, we have families on the brink of bankruptcy — yet we have runaway historic-sized forest fires,” Walden said. “That has to change.”

Walden claimed the plan will add $100 million to the economy, but some have questioned that figure. Walden said while he thinks the math adds up, even a far lower dollar amount would be more than what the forests are generating now, and the act would allow more control and better management of the forests.

While the federal government owns vast tracts of land in the West, that’s not the case in eastern states. Walden said there’s probably going to be some tradeoffs with East Coast lawmakers if the act is going to move forward, but he didn’t spell out what those compromises might be.

The act could move out fo the House by summer if all goes well, he said, and there’s some light over in the Senate: Oregon’s Ron Wyden, D, chairs the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which puts Oregon in a good position.

The representative also took a shot at President Barack Obama’s budget, which the White House released Wednesday morning, shortly before Walden spoke. He called the budget a “shocking attack on Social Security and Medicare” but also said he would have to drill down to find out what the budget means for residents in his district. The president’s proposed budget is often a policy and strategy statement, Walden said, so now serious fiscal discussions can begin.

Walden also announced his introduction of a bill to make it the official policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from government control and interference. The House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, which Walden chairs, held a hearing about the bill Wednesday and will vote on it next week.

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Contact Phil Wright at pwright@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0833.

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