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Pombo and Walden question ONCR's Tim Lillebo in field hearing, as fire bombers fly by.

by Kehn Gibson and Pat Ratliff, staff writers, The Tri-County Courier, 9/4/03

Like a defense attorney who found a crack in the witness’ testimony, Oregon Congressman Greg Walden bored in with the next question.

"If you were to choose, Mr. Lillebo, just what definition of ‘old growth’ would you have us put in this bill?"

Walden was questioning the Oregon Natural Resources Council’s eastern Oregon representative, Tim Lillebo, at a field hearing of the House Committee on Resources Monday in Redmond. The committee’s topic was the Healthy Forests Initiative, a bill co-sponsored by Walden and Colorado’s Scott McInnis.

The bill, HR 1904, was championed by President George W. Bush during his recent visit Thursday to the same arena in Redmond where Congressman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) was chairing the field hearing.

The bill passed out of the House by a majority vote representing a two-thirds majority of the House, an accomplishment that Pombo said bordered on the miraculous.

"We are talking about a bill that as an environmental component, a natural resources component, and a tribal component," Pombo said. "Given the current makeup of the House, it is incredible that we have achieved the consensus we have, and a lot of the credit must be given to the work of Greg Walden."

Pombo said that Walden, realizing the political implications of HR 1904, first approached staunch Democrats and liberals within the House to explain his position, and Walden’s desire for a true solution carried the day.

Pombo said Walden accepted the goals of western governors in HR 1904, and worked over the language of the bill "word for word" with staunch conservationists.

"Greg (Walden) has a sense of government that many people have forgotten or don’t comprehend," Pombo said. "He wants to put people to work in their own communities to make their communities, and therefore the country, safer."

After hearing the testimony of Dr. Thomas Bonnicksen, a professor of forest science at Texas A&M University, who stated that he had found more than 90 definitions of "old growth" in his research, and that a colleague had found more than 100 others, Walden and the audience were taken aback by Lillebo’s insistent demands for all definitions of "old growth" to qualify for complete protection from fuel reduction logging.

A counterpoint to Lillebo’s insistence came in regular five-minute intervals, as retardant bombers took flight from the adjacent Redmond Airport to attack the B&B Complex Fire, burning about 50,000 acres of dead and unmanaged timber about 25 miles from Redmond.

Walden appeared to use the regular takeoffs, which vibrated the building where the hearing was held, to drive home his point that inaction, as caused by the persistent appeals of fuel reduction projects by Lillebo’s organization, was just as dangerous as the "analysis paralysis" that Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth warned was overtaking the appeals process.

"The goal is fuel reduction, and we went over the language of this bill in great detail with many people on all sides of the issue," Walden said. "We approached Southern Democrats, many of whom have constituents who harvest hardwood forests, and we found common ground.

"The concerns I heard today we have heard before and have dealt with," Walden said. "I am beginning to think some people out there want to kill this bill simply because it is a solution."





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