Walden 'preaches to choir' on forest health bill

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden talks to E.R. Van Blaricom before a luncheon briefing in front of about 30 local residents after Saturday's Chief Joseph Days parade. Photo by Elane Dickenson

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden left Washington, D.C., at 11:30 p.m. Friday and was in Joseph in time to wave to the Chief Joseph Days parade crowd Saturday morning.

"This is my 153rd trip between Washington and Oregon in the 4 1/2 years since I've taken office," said the Republican from Hood River, who represents 20 counties of central, southern and eastern Oregon.

Foremost on his mind was the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, which he co-authored by Colorado representative Scott McInnis, to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire and improve the health of the nation's forests. It passed the House of Representatives by a bipartisan vote of 257 to 170, and passed out of the Senate's agriculture and forestry committee by a voice vote last week.

Walden said Saturday that the only danger he sees to the passage of the bill by the Senate is the possible threat of a filibuster.

"I know I'm preaching to the choir here," said Walden to the group of mostly hard-core Republicans gathered at the Mountain Aire Cafe in Joseph.

In addition to improving the health of the nation's forests by using science and professional forest management, including diseased eastern hardwood forests, Walden expects the bill to improve the economy of many rural areas. "I think it will have a big impact in rural communities," said Walden. "There's a lot of work to do. ... The work will provide both jobs and the wood that can be processed in our mills."

"We're trying to streamline the process," he said. He noted that at present management agencies are required to come up with five to seven alternatives, even though that only one or two are realistic. The others won't be seriously considered and will be drafted just so they won't be sued.

"That's nuts," Walden said.

He pointed to Wallowa County as a model of participation when it comes to developing plans. "Then someone can send in a postcard appeal without even participating. ... (Under the bill) if you want standing to appeal ... you have to be part of the process, come to the table."

Walden said his bill encourages "expedited research" to find the best scientific treatment for diseased science stands. For example, 1,000 acres would be allowed for research. He said critics of the bill have claimed the bill would allow "1,000 acre clear cuts," which he called ridiculous since laws limiting clear cuts will still be in place.

He pointed to poor forest health and said, "I want to know what we need to do to prevent this from happening. ... It's not an excuse, it's a reality."

Walden said he also plans to work on reforming the Endangered Species Act (ESA) so that measures taken under that act are peer reviewed by outside scientists and data collected in the field is given greater weight than theoretical models.

"We appreciate your efforts, Greg," said Mac Birkmaier during the gathering, saying that the ESA had "brought us to our knees." He added, "The same peple who shut down forestry are now trying to shut down agriculture."

Walden pointed to several other pieces of legislation that he hopes will help Wallowa County specifically, including the inclusion of $275,000 in a VA bill to help in the acquisition of the Elgin-Joseph railroad branch now owned by Wallowa and Union counties. That appropriation still has to be passed, he said.

Walden also mentioned approval of a $60,000 Economic Development Administration grant to Wallowa County announced Friday for engineering site studies for four sites identified for industrial development.

Walden said he was "stunned" to find out recently that according to the U.S. Census his district, the 2nd District of Oregon, is the 12 poorest in the U.S. Congress. "Harlem in New York City has a higher medium income that we do," he said.

In response to a question about the Wallowa Lake Dam project, Walden said that he is letting Oregon's Senators take the lead this time around. "They can introduce their bill, and when it comes over to the House, we'll take a look at it. The dam obviously needs to be replaced," he said.

After the luncheon gathering in Joseph, Walden left town at 2 p.m., flying by Sky Taxi to attend the 100th anniversary celebration of the City of Nyssa.

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