By the Boregonian's JIM BARNETT
WASHINGTON -- President Bush's trip to Oregon on Aug. 21 will include a stop to promote pending "healthy forests" legislation, as well as a previously announced campaign event in Portland, White House officials said Tuesday.
"He will make two stops in Oregon," said Ken Lisaius, a Bush spokesman. "One will be a fund-raiser in Portland. The other will be remarks on his healthy forest initiative at another location."
Lisaius declined to identify the location of Bush's second stop. But one site being considered is a forest-thinning project in the Deschutes National Forest in Central Oregon, forest officials said.
The trip comes at a crucial time for the forest-health bill -- and for Bush's election prospects in Oregon.
Bush narrowly lost Oregon and its seven Electoral College votes in 2000. But the president's political strategists again have identified Oregon as a toss-up in next year's election and hope to nudge the state into their column.
By focusing on forest management, Bush can generate enthusiasm, as well as campaign cash, from conservative supporters in Oregon, said Jim Moore, a political analyst in Portland.
"He can look out here and say, one of the issues is that we're trying to get people back to work to what they used to do," Moore said. "Because he was only 7,000 votes behind, it shows a good, solid, centrist platform that will be very good for him in the 2004 election."
Bush unveiled his "healthy forests initiative" in Oregon a year ago, and he likely will urge the Senate to pass the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, which contains some of its core proposals to limit the reach of environmental laws.
The bill calls for expedited thinning of overgrown forests that are at high risk of suffering catastrophic wildfires. Supporters have said the bill could help create jobs and revive the ailing timber industry.
Democrats' support needed The bill passed the House in May, but probably would require a filibuster-proof margin of 60 votes in the Senate. That means Bush would need support from at least nine Democrats to win passage.
Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., have tried to broker a compromise but remain mired in negotiations. Bush's tone during his visit could help determine the outcome, said Josh Kardon, Wyden's chief of staff.
"We'll be looking for a constructive message from the president that would encourage an effort to find common ground," Kardon said. "If the president delivers a message of 'my way or the highway,' then we know he's more focused on the campaign than he is on the legislation."
Officials at the Deschutes National Forest office in Bend could not confirm whether Bush planned to visit. But they said they were making preparations in case they are chosen to host the president.
Camp Sherman a possible site One area that might be of interest is Camp Sherman on the Metolius River northwest of Sisters, said Roland Giller, a spokesman. It has a 15-acre demonstration site where each acre has been thinned using different methods.
Years of firefighting have left about 80 percent of the 17,000 acre area there unnaturally thick with smaller trees, putting nearly every acre at risk of wildfire that could threaten cabins, homes and popular campgrounds.
Deschutes National Forest officials last month released a plan for thinning and other steps to reduce fire danger on about 12,500 acres, focused especially around residential and recreation sites and along vacation routes. Much of the work seeks to restore the original ponderosa pine landscape, with widely spaced, larger trees more resistant to fire and fewer small trees to serve as tinder.
Although conservation groups have expressed some reservations about the plan, most locals agree forest managers must take some action to avoid a conflagration. Michael Milstein of The Oregonian contributed to this report. Jim Barnett: firstname.lastname@example.org; 503-294-7604.