Lane County has been feeling the pinch of budget cuts, and the conservatives on the County Commission have proposed a tax levy to fund jails. When it comes to Congressman Peter DeFazio’s plan to split some of Oregon’s public forests into a timber trust and a conservation trust, the controversy comes from all sides of the political spectrum. A resolution has been introduced into the Oregon Legislature that would support the timber plan.
The DeFazio-Schrader-Walden plan, based on a proposal by former County Commission candidate Andy Stahl, would basically split 2.6 million acres of western Oregon’s federal forestland into a logging trust and a conservation trust. The forests, called the O&C lands, have traditionally been logged to generate funds for the rural counties whose lands they grow in.
That plan, officially called the O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Plan, has been under fire from conservationists. Critics say it does not protect endangered species or give adequate environmental safeguards and sets a dangerous precedent in calling for the transfer or sale of public lands.
Senate Joint Memorial Resolution 6, which had a public hearing March 5 says, like previous similar resolutions, that it “Urges President and Congress of United States of America to allow Oregon counties to manage revested Oregon and California [O&C] Railroad grant lands located in counties,” but it also specifically calls to support the O&C plan.
“Every legislative session timber interests push these resolutions calling for more clear-cutting on public lands, and many legislators end up voting for them because it is perceived to be good politics, regardless of what science or common sense says,” Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild says. He adds, “Nobody in Salem wants the timber industry to fund an opponent during the next election.”
The resolution was brought by the request of the Joint Task Force on County Payments. Rep. Phil Barnhart (D-Eugene) is a bill sponsor of the resolution.
DeFazio says that he plans to push to incorporate additional environmental safeguards, including increased riparian protections and bans on herbicides and pesticides, in the next proposal. He adds, “I am pleased that the Legislature, again, intends to pass a resolution to urge the federal government to find a long-term solution that will create jobs, sustain the local manufacturing base, provide revenues to rural Oregon counties and protect our public lands, fish, water and old growth.”
Heiken says a better solution is to look to the taxes on private logging that were eliminated in the ’90s. Oregon is currently shipping millions of board feet of raw logs, and jobs, overseas to China, he says. “A tax or other disincentive on log exports could do a lot more to help balance county budgets than eliminating environmental safeguards on our public lands or opening up millions more acres of public lands to clear-cutting.”