Think Timber, not Taxes for County Crisis

Enclosed is an excellent article by Suzanne Penegor and Gienie Assink about the need to restore timber harvesting in Oregon. It was published in the Register Guard last week. The co-author Assinek sent OregonCatalyst a copy so the entire state can see how local citizens have positive non-tax answers and pro-growth solutions to the county funding debacle.

John Prendergast, Oregon chairman of the Society of American Foresters, spoke to the Rubicon Society of Lane County on June 7. His presentation made it clear that non-management of public timberlands has had an overwhelmingly negative effect on both forest health and the social and economic health of Oregon communities.

The cost to Oregon counties as a result of repeated litigation by misguided environmental groups manifested itself in a huge reduction of funding for Oregon schools and roads. Prendergast’s presentation was part of a Rubicon Society series on Oregon’s O&C lands – lands that once belonged to the Oregon & California Railroad, but reverted to federal ownership.

Instead of using timber revenue to supplement county services, as had occurred since Congress passed the O&C Act in 1937, taxpayers are now being asked to make up for lost timber revenues by increasing existing taxes or attempting to create new ones.

The environmental movement suggests that human intervention in our forests is detrimental to the survival of certain wildlife species. So the movement has done its best to do away with professional forestry on federal timberlands, particularly here in Oregon.

For almost 20 years, due to environmental litigation, proper forest management has not been practiced, resulting in an increase in fire devastation. Last year, more than 10 million acres of timber burned in the United States due to non-management of our public forests – a record. Because of the increasing number of dead, unmanaged public forests, we face a growing threat of hardly containable “mega fires,” Prendergast said. These fires endanger the property and lives of people in rural areas.

Thinning and salvage practices would help reduce the intensity of natural fires in these areas and eliminate potential breeding grounds for deadly pests. Since the 1990s, U.S. forests have faced the loss of forest health due to insect infestation and the growing mortality rate. In British Columbia, the infamous mountain pine beetle has destroyed 34 million acres of timberland, comparable in size to New York state, and is spreading dangerously close to our borders. This epidemic alone threatens our unmanaged lands and provides more fuel to consuming fires.

Prendergast explained how Congress mandated the multiple use of O&C Lands in Oregon in 1937, and how these mandates provided for timber production and economic stability in our region by placing 50 percent of all timber receipts back into county services such as public safety, schools, libraries and other programs. This O&C legislation also enacted sustained yield policy on these public lands, which resulted in dependable revenue for many local communities. Unfortunately, federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act directly conflict with the O&C Act.

Small businesses such as the family-owned Burrill stud mill in Medford were forced to close their doors in the late 1990s due to a lack of timber on federal forest land available for sale, Prendergast noted. Fifty-nine percent of Oregon forests are federally owned, and most are locked up. Environmental litigation of these lands not only shut down locally owned small businesses, but also has displaced thousands of Oregon workers, placing additional strains on Oregon’s economy.

Between 1993 and 2004, 81 percent of the timber harvested in Oregon came from privately owned areas, but this is not enough to meet demand. Instead, we now import logs from other countries such as New Zealand, where laws for replanting and sustainability do not exist.

The O&C lands include 2.4 million acres of timberland in Western Oregon – a huge tax base for Oregon counties. However, lawyers and judges – not professional foresters – now mismanage these lands year after year, with devastating effects to forest health.

Because of the lack of revenue from these lands, Oregon citizens will continue to see proposals such as Measure 20-120, Lane County’s income tax proposal, which would have increased local taxes for community services to make up for the financial loss that has occurred. Oregonians should advise their elected officials in Congress to take action to return these federal timberlands in Oregon to active, professional forestry management.

We have a right to sustainable self-sufficiency by farming our renewable timber resources so we can get off federal welfare and restore our local tax base.