Article by: Suzanne Penegor and Gienie Assink
Oregon counties find themselves in a budget dilemma as a result of the inability to use our O&C Lands to provide funding for public safety and federal Forest Service timberlands to provide funding for vital public services like road maintenance and schools. The reality is that Oregon taxpayers cannot make up the huge difference in the lost timber receipts that used to finance these important county services, and it is time to reconsider whether we should restore that lost tax base by reopening those areas for economic use and timber harvesting.
In an attempt to restore a portion of the lost county revenues, the Bureau of Land Management has come up with an Alternative Plan 2, and the public comment deadline is Jan. 11th. Oregon taxpayers have an opportunity to restore this lost tax base by supporting Alternative 2. Without this new plan in place, Oregon counties will have to further reduce essential public services or ask voters for additional taxes.
Public lands should provide funding for local county services. If this means privatizing those lands or finding a way to return them to local control, then those options should be reviewed. Unfortunately, in the West much of our public land is federally owned and that puts our region at a distinct county service funding disadvantage.
For rural areas, the loss of the federal timber tax base has already meant less education opportunities for children. Further, roads will continue to decay and the cost of those repairs is rapidly increasing while funding continues to plummet. For Oregon counties that don’t have enough revenues now for jail space for criminals, the impact of the loss of timber receipts from the O&C tax base is real in terms of public safety.
Congress decided not to renew the Secure Rural Schools & Community Self Determination Act recently because it was originally supposed to be a temporary fix. Due to ongoing environmental litigation and the resulting lockup of much of the O&C and Forest Service lands, without SRS, 36 Oregon counties will lose a total of $257 million in funding. Before environmental litigation, timber receipts provided this funding to Oregon counties.
If the economic use of Forest Service lands were restored, then funding for Oregon county services like maintenance for schools and roads would also be restored. Since the promises of the Northwest Forest Plan for timber harvesting were never delivered, this also put pressure on Oregon county finances for lack of timber receipts.
The proposed BLM’s Alternative 2 Plan, if adopted, would replace about $107 million of the lost revenues for 17 Oregon counties because it would allow for timber harvesting again on those O&C lands. By choosing the BLM’s Alternative 2 plan, we have an opportunity to professionally manage our public timberlands again while providing economic benefits for our counties and citizens, and vital funding for public safety.
The domino effect of not using our timber tax base is becoming increasingly evident. It is foolish to continue to lock up this important tax base for non-economic use at the expense of vital county services. We have laws that mandate the restoration of harvested areas and sustainable use like the Oregon Forest Practices Act.
For those of us who are concerned about public safety, the BLM’s Alternative 2 plan would restore much of that funding to Oregon counties. We can help restore this funding for Oregon counties by submitting public comments supporting Alternative 2 by Jan. 11 to the BLM website, or by mailing your comments to the BLM office in Portland.
As Oregon Senator Ted Ferrioli, Senate Republican Leader, R-John Day says, “For those Oregonians who really care about public safety and services to seniors and veterans, this opportunity to direct BLM to select option 2 is the most important action they can take.”
Oregonians cannot ignore the issue of depleting county revenues any longer. By supporting the BLM’s Alternative 2 plan, Oregon citizens can make a difference that benefits our state at a critical time in our history.