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Governor's panel may have finally broken through the timber issue logjam
Posted On: Feb 22, 2013
Federal O&C forest lands are in dark green in 18 western Oregon counties.

It's a key revenue issue for counties, many of which include AFSCME-represented workers


The 14 county commissioners, environmentalists and timber industry representatives who made up Gov

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber's O&C Lands Panel made its initial report recently, and the group was actually optimistic as they took the long view on the state's embattled timber and county payments issue.

 

The wide-ranging panel consists of 14 county commissioners, environmentalists and timber industry representatives. While far from consensus, their report did offer eight options, each with a different mix of timber harvest levels and conservation measures.  Observers noted the report could go a long way toward ending a 20-year deadlock that has left many western Oregon counties in dire revenue straights.

 

Oregon AFSCME represents the employees of several counties hard hit by the seemingly never-ending debate over timber. The union has been a key player, both in Oregon and in Washington, D.C., in efforts to find compromise and resolve the issue.

 

The O&C issue and "county payments" are not completely synonymous. All but three of Oregon's 36 counties receive some level of federal county timber payments. The O&C lands are 2.5 million forested acres situated in 18 western Oregon counties. They were given to the Oregon & California Railroad in the late 19th century as an inducement to build a rail line. The rail line was never built, and the lands passed back into federal ownership in 1916. The O&C Act of 1937 required that the lands be managed for timber production, with 50 percent of the revenues going to the counties.

 

In the 1980s the timber production requirement came into conflict with federal environmental laws. The Northwest Forest Plan of 1994 sought to balance timber and conservation goals, but harvests have fallen far short of the plan's targets. Congress passed temporary measures to replace the revenues the counties had lost. Federal funding has steadily declined, and the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act — the formal name for "county payments" — has expired.

 

Three Oregon congressmen — Democrats Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader and Republican Greg Walden — have proposed splitting the O&C lands into two trusts, one managed for conservation and the other for timber. The Kitzhaber's panel was charged with creating other recommendations.

 

In a related note, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), stumping at a recent town hall meeting in Roseburg, "guaranteed" that Congress would again re-up the Secure Rural Schools Act in 2013.

 


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