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Sheriffs backing DeFazio on timber.

Byline: Christian Wihtol The Register-Guard

Their expertise is in law enforcement, not logging. But that hasn't stopped Ore gon sheriffs from endorsing Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio's plan to sharply increase timber harvests on some federal forests in Western Oregon.

The Oregon State Sheriffs' Association recently endorsed the DeFazio plan, called the O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act.

So far this year, 15 Oregon county boards of commissioners have also passed resolutions of support, DeFazio said in a joint news release with GOP Rep. Greg Walden and Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader, co-authors of the plan.

One of those is the Lane County board, which passed a resolution in support on March 14 on a 3-1 vote, with Rob Handy opposed and Pete Sorenson absent.

Many county sheriffs like the logging plan because their departments are being financially pinched by the steady reduction in, and possible elimination of, so-called federal timber payments - money the federal government has been giving to select rural counties nation wide to make up for lack of logging revenue on federal lands.

Lane County Sherrif Tom Turner said the association's legislative team made the endorsement and he "absolutely" supports it.

"Lane County has to come up with a firmer way to finance their county, and this is a first step," Turner said.

Logging in Oregon is severely restricted on most federally owned forests west of the Cascades summit due to federal environmental laws and the 1994 federal Northwest Forest Plan.

DeFazio's bill would remove about 3 million acres of timberlands in Western Oregon from U.S. Bureau of Land Management control and divide them roughly in half, setting aside half for preservation and the other half for long-term logging rotations. Part of the logging revenue would go to county governments.

Backers say it's a way to send money to dwindling county government coffers as well as to create rural logging and wood products jobs.

Critics say the plan drastically weakens the existing environmental protections on the BLM forests, and that a better way to raise money for county government is to increase the currently low taxes on timber harvests on private land in the state. Such an increase would be up to the state Legislature.

In Lane County, the plan has emerged as a battle ground in both county commissioner races. Incumbent south Eugene commissioner Sorenson opposes it, and his rival, Andy Stahl, supports it with changes. In north Eugene, incumbent Handy opposes the plan, and his challenger, Pat Farr, supports it.

"Sheriffs in Oregon have been forced to stretch their budgets to the limit for years," DeFazio said in the statement with Walden and Schrader. "Recent budget cuts have forced painful layoffs, eliminated jail beds, restricted hours of service, and limited their ability to respond to rural emergencies. Our bipartisan plan would provide needed revenue to struggling rural Oregon communities and prevent disastrous budget cuts to public safety. We thank the sheriffs for their strong support."

In the face of stagnant or declining revenue on several fronts, Lane County is preparing for wide-ranging cuts, including reduced criminal prosecutions and reduced jail beds.

DeFazio, Walden and Schrader have worked with the House Resources Committee to integrate the provisions of their proposal into larger committee legislation, DeFazio said.

Meanwhile, DeFazio said he has been named a principal House negotiator to the House-Senate conference committee that will work on a long-term transportation bill for the two chambers to vote on. The Senate version of the transportation bill includes a one-year extension of the timber payments program, and DeFazio said he wants the one-year extension included in the final bill.
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Title Annotation:Local News; The association joins 15 county boards in endorsing the plan to increase harvests
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 2, 2012
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