February 12, 2004

Wydens bill to create Prineville forest health research center garners Administration, local support in U.S. Senate hearing

Prineville facility would assess Western forest health, help reduce fire risk

Washington, D.C. U.S. Senator Ron Wydens bill (S. 1910) to create a forest health research center at the headquarters of the Ochoco National Forest in Prineville had its first U.S. Senate hearing today. The Prineville facility would be charged with carrying out a major requirement of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act: to inventory and assess forest stands on federal forest land and, with the consent of owners, private forest land.The objectives of the inventory and assessment are to evaluate forest health conditions now and in the future, and to consider the ecological impacts of insect, disease, invasive species, fire and weather-related events. The Prineville center would work to make sure data is as accurate as possible in order to improve forest management, especially in Western softwood forests.At todays hearing of the Public Lands and Forests subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Wyden submitted written testimony on behalf of local proponents, including Scott Cooper, Judge for Crook County, and the Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce.Of the Prineville center, Cooper wrote, The proposed forest research center can help right the balance. Not only will it ensure efficient and effective coordination and allocation of scarce federal resources (apparently growing scarcer by the day) but it will also bring much needed federal employment opportunities to a community which has been economically damaged by federal forest-management policy of the last 25 years. In addition, by attaching the center to the Ochoco National Forest in Prineville, Congress can help assure the existence of critical mass needed to preserve the Ochoco, The research center would be a boost to Crook Countys economy, wrote Diane Bohle, Executive Director of the Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce. The center would blend our roots with research and provide the diversification our economy has so desperately needed.During last Novembers debates over a forest health bill, Wyden, while leading efforts in the U.S. Senate to pass a balanced wildfire bill, was able to attach his Prineville provision to the Healthy Forests Restoration Act. During final negotiations on the bill, all projects were stripped out despite a coordinated effort by Wyden and U.S. Representative Greg Walden to preserve the Prineville center language in the final wildfire bill. Wyden and Walden then each introduced stand-alone legislation, in their respective chambers, to create the Prineville center.Creating a forest health research center in Prineville would give the Central Oregon economy a shot in the arm and help reduce the risk of wildfires throughout the West, Wyden said. Locating this facility in Prineville will also help ensure that the partnership between the Forest Service and Crook County continues well into the future.At todays hearing, the Administration also voiced its support for the bill in written testimony, stating, The Department of Agriculture supports S. 1910. The statement went on to say that, S.1910 is important because it recognizes the critical need to help identify priorities and monitor progress as implementation of the National Fire Plan, the Presidents Healthy Forests Initiative and the Healthy Forest Restoration Act proceeds.A committee markup of the bill could take place as soon as March.