Oregon GOP pushes logging, Columbia water bills

2012-02-16T10:34:00Z Oregon GOP pushes logging, Columbia water billsThe Associated Press The Associated Press
February 16, 2012 10:34 am  • 

SALEM (AP) - Republicans are pushing to expand logging in state forests and tap more water from the Columbia River, hoping a partisan tie in the state House gives them a rare opportunity to enact ideas that are often debated but not approved.

Both ideas have support from some Democrats, and proponents say they'd help create jobs in the timber and agriculture industries. But environmentalists staunchly oppose them with concerns about harming endangered species and unraveling plans intended to balance timber and conservation interests.

One measure, House Bill 4101, would increase the amount of water taken from the Columbia River in winter months, when flows are higher, to increase farming potential in eastern Oregon.

Farmers have long complained that Oregon doesn't store enough water from the rainy months for use during the dry summer growing season. More water, they say, would allow them to grow in new areas and to plant more profitable crops.

The measure is a small step toward spurring the development of new storage capacity, said Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, the chief sponsor. That might include refilling underground aquifers or possibly partnering with Washington or Canada to store it upstream, he said.

McLane said his intent is only to allow water withdrawal in the winter.

``None of this alters an environmental law,'' he said. ``We're just saying, `Within the existing framework of protections, what can we do?'''

Proponents hope it would expand agricultural production, creating jobs in farm fields, packing plants and shipping facilities.

Despite McLane's assurances, opponents say they're concerned that the legislation would open the door to taking water during spring and summer months and harm salmon.

Legislation addressing water in the Columbia basin should have a broader focus, looking at multiple sources and uses for water, including conservation, said Teresa Huntsinger, a program director at the Oregon Environmental Council.

``Without greater clarity about what the bill is trying to accomplish, it just doesn't make much sense,'' Huntsinger said.

Republican Rep. Andy Olson of Albany is pushing a separate bill that would require the logging of 85 percent of harvestable timber expected to be grown on state-owned forest land. Current management plans allow up to 70 percent to be harvested, but a smaller amount is actually cut.

About 60 percent of Oregon's forestland is federally owned, but restrictions significantly limit the amount that can be harvested. Olson wants to boost production on land the state can control.

"It creates jobs, and it also creates a lot of money for families that are really needing it,'' Olson said.

Opponents say Oregon's state forests are already carrying a disproportionate share of the burden for timber production. The measure, House Bill 4098, would throw out a forest management plan that balances ecological, economic and social goals and in favor of the timber industry, said Ivan Malusky, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club.

That would have negative impacts on drinking water, salmon recovery and habitat, and recreation, Malusky said.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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