Wyden introduces bill to restore jobs, forests

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., center, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington Wednesday, accompanied by representatives from Oregon's timber industry and conservation groups to announce their support of the Oregon Eastside Forests Restoration, Old Growth Protection and Jobs Act. From left are, Tim Lillebo of OregonWild; Bob Bendick of The Nature Conservancy; Tom Partin of the American Forest Resources Council; Tom Insco of Boise Cascade; Randi Spivak of the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy; Sen. Wyden; John Sheik of the Ochoco Lumber Company; Andy Kerr of The Larch Company; Mary Scurlock of the Pacific Rivers Council; and Bob Irvin of Defenders of Wildlife.<br><i>Haraz N. Ghanbari/The Associated Press</i>

GRANTS PASS - Longtime adversaries in the bitter battle over Northwest logging have come together to support legislation to restore timber jobs and protect old growth in Eastern Oregon's six national forests.

Representatives of the timber industry and conservation groups who fought each other for decades in courtrooms and the halls of Congress joined Sen. Ron Wyden in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday when he introduced the bill in the Senate.

The Oregon Democrat said the bill represents nearly a year of talks between timber and conservation groups, and he hopes it will serve as a foundation for expanding forest restoration and timber jobs on the west side of the Cascades and across the rest of the nation.

The national forests of the Northwest were once the timberbasket of the nation, but logging has declined to a fraction of former levels as it became clear that salmon, northern spotted owls and other wildlife were heading toward extinction from the loss of their habitat.

The Bush administration tried hard to boost logging to fulfill campaign promises to the timber industry, but those efforts were repeatedly stuck down by federal courts, and private lands and imports now provide the bulk of the nation's timber.

The bill would authorize an extra $50 million for the Forest Service to shift its focus to large-scale forest restoration projects, tripling the number of acres thinned over the next three years. It also bars logging most large trees and along streams, limits permanent road building, and streamlines the process for lodging environmental objections to projects.

While restoring ecological conditions skewed by a century of misguided logging practices and not letting fire play its natural role of keeping forests healthy, it would also rescue struggling mills and logging operations crucial to the restoration work, Wyden said.

"The areas of agreement between the conservation community and the timber industry mean that's the end of the timber wars," said Andy Kerr, a conservation consultant who was repeatedly hanged in effigy by loggers when he was conservation director for the Oregon Natural Resources Council and helped lead the fight to stop old growth logging in the Northwest.

At the urging of Wade Moseby of Collins Pine, Kerr said he got together with John Shelk, president of Ochoco Lumber, in January.

Ochoco had to shut down its mill in Prineville several years ago but has used to value of its timberlands to leverage projects overseas. They drew in parties from both sides to work on a compromise on managing national forests in all of Oregon that could be laid down in law rather than subject to administrative change.

Talks broke down over the west side of Oregon, which is home to spotted owls, salmon and the richest timber stands. Talks continued on the east side, and last April, Shelk and Kerr went to Wyden with an agreement in principle. Word-by-word negotiations over the final bill finished Friday.

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