Eco-elites forced rural Oregon onto federal timber welfare

by Rep. Dennis Richardson

Oregon needs a new forest timber policy

The federal government controls 53 percent of Oregon land, and rural counties depended on effective and productive management of those resources. They have been abandoned and betrayed.

If you aren’t hungry or worried about your next meal as you read this, be grateful.  One of every five Oregonians is now receiving food stamps.

If you aren’t checking Craigslist for a job or sending out resumes, be thankful.  Almost ten percent of Oregon’s workforce is in the unemployment line.

Somber statistics, but the real tragedy, the deepest devastation lies in Oregon’s rural counties. And it’s about to get worse, much worse.

Notwithstanding the bipartisan coalition of Oregon’s federal elected officials who are working to extend federal timber payments, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack predicted extending benefits is not likely to occur.  Secretary Vilsack during his recent visit to Oregon stated that the federal program that provided as much as $253 million a year in payments to rural Oregon counties, the Secure Rural Schools Act, will not survive the Congressional super committee’s work to cut $1.5 trillion from the federal budget deficit.

If you live in an urban area and you still have a job and a home, maybe you don’t care that this will likely bankrupt at least two Oregon counties.  Maybe you don’t have time to worry about rural unemployment rates that have hovered near 20 percent for almost two decades.

But if you do care, then before you leave for work or go out for lunch, take a close-up look at poverty in our state; take a moment to google Curry County or Coos County, or for that matter just view the sweeping satellite image of our state – nearly half of which is blanketed with riches, deep green forests—Oregon’s richest natural resource.

And yet these are Oregon’s poorest areas, where methamphetamine destroys already broken lives, where hopelessness evicts the young and ambitious, where urban idealism has outspent and outlawed rural initiative.  Where generations of hard-working timber families once labored and thrived, depression now is a way of life.

Imagine if you lived in the midst of the natural resources necessary to save yourself and your family, and were ordered to abandon your tools, your dreams, and your community. Consider how demoralizing to be a fourth generation logger, out of work because of legal challenges to timber sales, who must stand by and watch Oregon’s forests in thick, black, carbon-laden smoke, as millions of acres are consumed in raging forest fires.  It wasn’t intended to be this way.

Rural Oregonians acted in good faith and believed in their elected leaders when they helped negotiate President Clinton’s 1994 Northwest Forest Plan, but since then teams of environmental lawyers have blocked the timber sales, closed the mills, and thwarted alternative recreation plans, leaving rural Oregon underemployed and dependent on government hand-outs.

How could the urban elected officials who set the agenda for our federal forests turn away from our most plentiful renewable resource?  How could they ignore our comparative advantage over other states?  Who is responsible for Oregon’s rural poverty, high unemployment rate and declining income?  How did this happen?

During the 1980s and 90s timber revenues from federal forests in rural Oregon counties plummeted.  Well-funded “eco-elites” [If this term offends you, see Note below.] shut down Oregon’s timber harvests by obtaining federal court rulings over the endangered species listing of the spotted owl.  More than 100 mills closed.  Thousands of family wage jobs were eliminated, drying up incomes and businesses in small mill towns across our state.  Annual timber harvests now hover at around 10 percent of levels associated with a more thriving Oregon.  Ironically, Oregon’s population of spotted owls continues to dwindle.

Faced with economic disaster from the loss of timber harvest revenues, rural counties turned to Congress for a solution.  Rather than correcting the misuse of the Endangered Species Act, Congress approved the Secure Rural Schools Act, which temporarily supplanted the lost income that once funded rural schools, government, and other essential services.
Instead of continuing to fund county services from timber harvest revenues, rural counties were paid hundreds of millions of dollars in federal welfare payments.

The counties were ordered to develop alternative economic plans.  Having achieved their goals of making Oregon’s rich forests of renewable timber legally off-limits and unavailable to be managed or harvested, Portland’s urban eco-elites promptly turned their backs and abandoned the counties to fend for themselves with meager resources.

For the past decade, politicians and the environmentalists have allowed rural Oregon counties to deteriorate and become ever more dependent on government handouts.  Now, in the face of massive federal deficits, nobody wants to defend any longer what are essentially welfare payments to counties in 40 states.

Portland and Oregon’s other major cities should wake up.  The last federal timber welfare payment checks are being issued, and they will mark the end of the primary source of revenue to some of Oregon’s rural counties.  There will be consequences felt in Portland, Salem and Eugene from the bankruptcy of Oregon rural counties.  As the urban eco-elites watch placidly from the sidelines, they should realize this rural economic meltdown will financially affect their schools, their county services, and their tax rates. State government is already being asked to intervene.  What will be the cost and how should we respond?

The solution is clear.  Ignoring Oregon’s vast timber resources is a failed policy and must be reversed.  Democrat leaders now must “man-up” and face their coalition of environmental supporters and say, “No more lawsuits.  Our neighbors are suffering; our rural communities are collapsing; our rural counties must be saved.  We must moderate our forest policy.”

Action is needed now.  Words are not enough. The federal government controls 53 percent of Oregon land, and rural counties depended on effective and productive management of those resources. They have been abandoned and betrayed.

The truth stares rural folks in the face day and night. There are no alternatives. There is no replacement economy. There is only the forest—one of the richest, greenest, fastest growing forests in the world.

There is only one solution – it’s vast, green, and sustainable.  Oregon needs a new forest timber policy.  The particulars of a new Oregon timber policy must be hammered out between the state and federal government.  It is not working to have the future of Oregon’s rural counties controlled three thousand miles away in Washington, D.C.

What should Oregon’s new timber policy look like?  One proposal is to place control of Oregon’s federal forests with the counties in which they are located.  In addition, to provide funding to Oregon’s revenue-starved timber counties Oregon’s Congressional Representatives Peter DeFazio and Greg Walden have proposed offering long-term leases on up to 1 million acres of Oregon’s federal timber land that is currently managed by the Federal BLM. A third idea is to have Oregon’s federal forests placed in a trust with Oregon assuming management and control of the timber assets.

Regardless of the final terms of the new Oregon timber policy, safeguards must be included that will stop the use of our federal courts as an eco-elitist weapon against responsible timber harvesting.

The time has come to reopen Oregon’s forests in a responsible manner. The time has come to reclaim our bounty, our birthright, and rebuild Oregon’s natural resource-based economy.  The economic future of both rural and urban Oregon depends upon it.

NOTE:  It is difficult to find an acceptable term for those environmental/ecological activists whose focus is on maintaining pristine forests regardless of the economic consequences or the forest conflagrations such policies may cause.  Since those included in the term “eco-elites” were likely to be offended by any appellation I might use, this one will have to do until I can find a more suitable term.  Suggestions are welcomed.

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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Economy, Federal Budget | 43 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • guest

    If you cut down a tree that is six hundred years old, how long does it take to grow another six hundred year old tree? When you figure that out you will understand why logging is not sustainable.

    • Morfar

      Bristling at your naïveté about sustainable tree farming.  Indeed, preserving majestic and ancient trees is worth while and many notable reserves have been set aside.   Opal Creek is a nearby example – Southward, the magnificent Pacific Redwoods and Bristlecone Pine, undeniably awesome.But hey, mister, I’ve planted seedlings in the Tillamook Forest and I think it’s past time for some harvest that can provide sorely needed income to Oregonians and that’s my toot, by golly!

  • Notworking

    Not only that, but what about the owls.
    Everyone wants free money and nobody cares about our mother, the earth.
    Fools and morons and idiots!
    I care.
    I don’t have a job, but I don’t want one. Everything I need is provided for me, so I say save the earth.

  • Bob Clark

    This is a travesty.  President Clinton way back in the 90s worked out a supposed compromise between timber industry and environmental activist groups, but the latter did not genuinely hold up their end of the bargain; and the latter have continue to use the courts to reduce timber harvest below the sustainable level prescribed in the Clinton deal.

    Of course, Clinton is partly responsible for the biases held by many federal courts against free working peoples in favor of “feel good” but ineffective environmental policies.  The eco elites would rather have a bankrupt country unable to provide value added working opportunities for the less well off than harvest the bountiful renewable natural resources available to provide such remedy.  The balance has swung too far towards the ludites and against work eager people.

    • Guest2

      Environmentalists never stick to a deal.  

  • guest

    Read the story of Pacific Lumber. The man that started the company was a personal friend of my grandfathers. He created and understood sustainable logging. Generation of families worked for the company. The company was taken over, the trees were clear-cut and the company is now bankrupt.

    • Guest2

      Much of the clear-cutting on private land in the 1990s was a response to environmental lawsuits.  Private timber land owners were afraid if they didn’t cut now (then), they would be blocked from ever cutting.

  • guest

    I know that everyone wants to blame it on environmentalist, but what it really boils down to is greed. We never look down the road, its all about me and now. “Drill Baby Drill” is a great example.

  • Lulz

    ” It is difficult to find an acceptable term for those environmental/ecological activists…”
    Then you’ll understand why I refer to people like you as”corporate whores”?  Really can’t think of any better term to describe people who only see dollar signs but pretend to care.

  • Anonymous

    There is no such thing as pristine forests”.  Rocket fuel, insecticides, herbicides, radioactive fallout, and other inconveniences of exhaust and civilization has fallen upon the forests.  What man has not done to the forests, in ignorance, nature will take care of through droughts, earthquakes, cyclones, volcanoes, floods and extinction level events.  Mother Nature does not hesitate to wipe out entire eco-systems or species (witness the current lack of sizable dinosaurs).  Forests are temporal and should be used as a renewable resource through intelligent, educated sustained harvest.  Without viable substitutes for wood products that don’t create more ecologically sound outcomes, forests have a mighty good place in the evolution of the world.  Worshiping an old, dying forest just kills it faster. Spotted owls, deer, elk, etc. all eat better out of a 2nd growth forest than an old dying forest.  2nd growth trees provide more oxygen and carbon dioxide than old dying forests.The corporate Federal Government needs to be kicked out of Oregon and Oregon needs to be allowed sane development of our entire state in the much the same way as the Eastern U.S. was “allowed” to do.  Our state should not be being controlled by genociders who see no goodness or purpose or potential for mankind except death.  Mankind has everything it needs to live in harmony with the planetary and solar systems, if we apply real knowledge instead of myths, half-truths and outright lies to the multiple crisis’ we face here and now.  Hysteria only creates more dangerous people who will regard the life of the forest as less worthwhile than their own lives and will be willing to destroy the “sacred beast” to spite those who set it aside as too precious to use.  

  • Notworking

    If only the government would give me a free iPad then I would not need to get the paper and thus I would help save our forests.

    • Lulz

      If only someone would take your keyboard away.

  • Oregon has sustainable timber as a new harvest emerges every 50 years!

  • get real

    The idea that logging is not happening on federal lands is a myth! 

    most recent data from the Forest Service and BLM on timber sales offered for
    sale under the Northwest Forest Plan between 1995 and 2010 reveal
    that the agencies have offered 8.7 billion (with a “b”) board feet
    of timber. This is equivalent to 1.74 million log truck loads. If parked
    end-to-end, these trucks would stretch along I-5 from Seattle to San
    Diego _more_than_14_times_. This does not sound like gridlock to me.


    the 1 billion board foot per year timber target often recited by the timber
    industry is misleading. Timber targets were merely
    “estimated” in the forest plans. The real timber targets are set
    each year by Congress. The data show that the agencies met 82% of the
    timber targets established by Congress since 1995. The small short-fall is the
    result of two giant legal blunders that that agencies brought upon themselves.
    They simply failed to protect streams and wildlife as promised in the forest

  • Founding Fathers

    What the hell is an “eco-elite”?

    It’s just a BS term you’re throwing out there because the right has figured out that it’s good to pretend that they’re on the side of “the little people”, while actually being on the side of the fat cats.

    • 3H

      I wonder, when he comes across an a constituent that is an environmentalist, if he calls them an eco-elite to their face?  Or maybe eco-elites are environmentalists who don’t live in his district.   Just keep in mind that when he says he can’t think of any better name, he means that the can’t think of any name that is more rude but that won’t get him in trouble.  He’s trying to be cute and clever.  He should stop, now, before he falls further behind.

  • Founding Fathers

    And more on this point, Rep. Richardson, where were you in the 80s when the forests were being logged at record rates, yet timber jobs were disappearing due to mechanization and raw log exports?

    Were you going after the real elites, the owners of the timber companies who were making money hand over fist while jobs were going away?

    Where were you when the town of Valsetz went away, due to the private timber company having over-logged their own lands?

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