- Natural Resources and Rural Development
Natural Resources and Rural Development
The Beaver State was built by Americans who relied on the land for their livelihood. Natural resource industries, like farming, forestry, and salmon fishing, remain integral to Oregon’s economy today. Our state has also long been a destination for Americans looking to experience the great outdoors. Oregon’s protected public lands provide valuable habitats, supply clean water, and generate jobs through sustainable harvests, recreation, and tourism. Preserving our natural resources and making smart decisions about economic development will help spur rural growth and ensure that future generations can enjoy Oregon’s wild places and public lands while putting people to work.
Protecting Oregon’s Natural Treasures
Oregon is known for its long history of conserving the natural resources that are the foundation of our economy. From the historic land-use measures led by Governor Tom McCall to the public lands protections championed by Senator Mark Hatfield, the state has preserved our natural treasures and kept much of its land in working farms and forestry.
Senator Merkley has long been a leader in the conservation and preservation of Oregon’s natural areas. As a U.S. Senator, Merkley’s very first vote was in favor of a public lands bill that creates new wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, and national recreation areas across Oregon.
The 2009 public lands bill was historic in its scope: it provides protection for approximately 2 million acres across the country as wilderness, including nearly 200,000 acres are in Oregon. The bill protects:
- 127,000 acres on and around Mount Hood with Wilderness designation and 34,000 acres as National Recreation Areas
- 23,000 acres in the backcountry of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument with creation of the Soda Mountain Wilderness
- 13,800 acres around the headwaters of the Elk River, known as the Copper Salmon Wilderness, where some of Oregon’s most plentiful coastal salmon runs occur
- 8,600 acres near the John Day River as the Spring Basin Wilderness
- 30,000 acres in the amazing Badlands recreational area just outside of Bend
Senator Merkley believes we need to continue to protect the most pristine parts of our state. Unfortunately only 3.7 percent of our state is protected as wilderness, compared to 10 percent in Washington and 13 percent in California. In addition, we need to protect the last remaining stands of old-growth forest in the state. These unique and amazing symbols of our state’s natural heritage are important to the state’s tourism and recreation industries and provide habitat for wildlife.
Senator Merkley has cosponsored legislation to provide full and permanent appropriations for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The LWCF has been the main source of funding for federal land and water acquisitions by federal agencies primarily for outdoor recreation, as well as for similar state-level programs. Senator Merkley knows that protecting and maintaining our public lands not only provides environmental and recreational benefits, but also creates jobs in the tourism, recreation, timber, fishing, and other natural resource sectors.
In 2009, Senator Merkley also introduced the Migratory Bird Treaty Act Penalty and Enforcement Act of 2009 to provide for penalties and enforcement for intentionally taking protected bird species.
Oregon’s Natural Resource Economy
Senator Jeff Merkley grew up the son of a sawmill worker in Roseburg, Oregon, a community supported by Oregon’s natural resources.
Oregon’s forests provide jobs in the state’s important timber and forestry products industries, and Oregon also gains jobs and economic value from protected areas of our forests.
Senator Merkley believes that we need to keep creating jobs in Oregon’s forests and has worked to create healthy forest-based economies at the same time we work to create healthy forests. Senator Merkley believes that the key to moving beyond divisive natural resources debates of the past lies in seeing economic development and sustainability as goals that can mutually reinforce each other and in bringing community stakeholders together to collaborate on sustainable economic development. There are opportunities to create jobs sustainably harvesting forest products, jobs thinning forests to reduce unnatural build-up of small brush that puts communities at risk of forest fire, and jobs harvesting and processing waste material from forestry and thinning operations for conversion to biomass energy.
Communities across the state are employing the Oregon tradition of working together to come up with collaborative solutions, and they are putting together economic development projects and strategies that create jobs in the woods, create benefits for the community and the environment, and keep natural resource management out of the courts.
In 2009, Senator Merkley worked with President Obama and his colleagues in Congress to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which includes $500 million in funding to put people to work thinning our overgrown second-growth forests. Thinning projects help create jobs in rural communities and reduce the risk of wildfire.
Many rural areas have historically depended on federal timber payments as a source of revenue to fund schools and local services and Senator Merkley is dedicated to finding sustainable long-term solutions for these communities. As a member of the Oregon state legislature, Merkley worked with leaders in Washington to continue county payments and he is carrying on the work to develop a long-term funding source as a United States Senator. The first bill Merkley introduced in the United States Senate, which he cosponsored with Senator Ron Wyden, would establish a Task Force to propose strategies to give counties dependable sources of revenue after the current county payments program expires.
Senator Merkley believes that greater use of biomass energy can be one strategy for sustainable economic development in forest communities. During the Environment and Public Works Committee’s work on a clean energy jobs bill in 2009, Senator Merkley included several provisions to encourage the development and deployment of biomass energy. Included in the bill was dedicated funding for renewable heating energy including biomass heating projects, as well as financial incentives for forest landowners and farmers to manage land in ways that reduce emissions or increase sequestration of carbon pollution that causes global warming.
Senator Merkley has proposed legislation to allow biomass from public lands to qualify for the current Renewable Fuels program and make sure that biomass is eligible for renewable electricity and climate change programs.
Senator Merkley also wants to help ensure a vital future for Oregon’s historic fishing industry. He supports science-based efforts to restore Oregon’s wild salmon runs, particularly in the Klamath and Columbia-Snake river systems, and he supports making sure Oregon fishermen get the disaster assistance they need when poor runs from rivers like the Sacramento mean there are not enough fish off the Oregon coast to be fished sustainably.