By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
The following is an updated post:
SALEM – A former county commissioner and a group of conservation activists are accusing the governor’s timber panel, appointed to come up with a solution for the declining industry, of meeting behind closed doors and lacking transparency.
Former Lane County Commissioner Jerry Rust and conservation activist group Forest Web accuse Gov. John Kitzhaber and federal lawmakers of excluding the public from the timber panel’s work and called for hearings and public comment. The panel is made up of conservation, timber and county officials and they have been charged with finding a compromise that would open the forests to logging but continue conservation.
The panel, made up of timber, conservation and county officials, has been meeting behind closed doors since it was appointed this fall.
What happens with that recommendation remains to be seen. Tom Towslee, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, said he couldn’t comment on the activists’ assertion that the recommendations would show up in potential legislation for 2013 because they haven’t seen the panel’s findings yet.
The panel is also looking at state initiatives and the governor has $6.6 million in state funds in his budget for efforts that could bring more business to the mills.
Rust and Cristina Hubbard, Forest Web project director, sent letters to the governor’s office and held news conferences in Salem and Eugene on Tuesday asking that the panel’s meetings be open to the public and all minutes and records of the meeting be made available.
A message left with the governor’s office was not immediately returned. It’s unclear when the panel meets, how often and when the findings will be revealed though Hubbard said she believed a recommendation was supposed to come this month or next.
“Why the secrecy?” Hubbard asked.
If the panel’s recommendations become part of federal legislation, there would be a public process held in Washington D.C. on the legislation but Rust said Oregonians need to have their say here at home.
“It’s pretty hard for an average citizen to go back and forth and participate in Washington D.C.,” he said.
Hubbard and Rust are concerned that federal lands would be opened up to clear cutting. Rust also said he thinks counties are anxious to get more money after spending years dependent on their share of federal revenue from harvests.
Since 1937, 18 counties on the western side of the state, which are part of the Oregon California Revested Grantlands, have shared timber proceeds with the federal government. Some counties are facing serious budget issues as the money has dried up with the limited harvesting.
Government is trying to find an answer that it at least in part created when the mills were pushed toward extinction with strict 1990s-era regulations, including a cap on harvests that was designed to protect the Northern Spotted Owl.
Rust says counties have become dependent on the federal government handouts and are hungry for more.
“This is enhanced taking,” he said.
Nineteen conservation groups announced their support for Wyden’s O&C principles on Monday but stopped short of support for designating areas for timber harvesting.
“Large-scale logging does not fall under the heading of ‘modest activities,’” the groups stated in a press release.
Timber representatives and elected officials acknowledged at a business summit earlier this month that finding a compromise between the environmentalists and the timber industry and the counties won’t be easy.
Rust and Hubbard just want the public brought in.
“These decisions have a direct impact on our lives and those of the generations to follow. Our elected officials must cease their disregard for public input,” Hubbard said in a press release.