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" —
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.