Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has created a panel to try to end a stalemate over federal forest lands that once belonged to a corrupt railroad.
Almost a hundred years ago Congress seized about 2 and a half million acres of forest from the Oregon & California Railroad. Today the O & C lands are managed primarily by the Bureau of Land Management, but Oregon counties get half the profits from timber sales.
Tom Tuchman is Gov. Kitzhaber’s forestry advisor. He says the tree thinning that’s currently the focus on the O&C lands doesn’t provide enough income for rural counties.
“The governor’s been very clear he’d like to see increased logging levels from today,” Tuchman said. “The question is where, when how and under what conditions would you do that.”
Kitzhaber’s 14-person panel is made up of county commissioners, environmentalists, and timber industry reps. O&C Counties - Doug Robertson – Douglas County Commissioner - Tony Hyde – Columbia County Commissioner - Simon Hare – Josephine County Commissioner - Jamie Damon – Clackamas County Commissioner
Conservation - Greg Block – Wild Salmon Center - David Dreher – Pew Foundation - John Kober – Pacific Rivers Council - Sybil Ackerman – Sybil Ackerman Strategies - Bob Davison - Defenders of Wildlife - Jack Williams – Trout Unlimited
Forest Products Industry - Allyn Ford – Roseburg Forest Products - Dale Riddle – Seneca Sawmills - Jennifer Phillipi – Rough and Ready Lumber Co. - Ray Jones – Stimson Lumber
The governor has asked the panel to report back with a legislative proposal for the O & C lands in January.
Since the Northwest Forest Plan was adopted to protect the spotted owl and other endangered species, Oregon counties have relied on federal aid payments to make up for declining profits from timber sales on BLM and Forest Service land.
Congress has been increasingly reluctant to continue the aid program for timber counties and extended it for just one year in 2012. Oregon counties are scheduled to receive their last payments in December 2012 and January 2013. Several, including Curry County and Josephine County, could go bankrupt.
Environmental groups, and a commission convened by previous governor Ted Kulongoski, have pointed out that O and C counties have some of the lowest local property rates in Oregon, and could help solve their budget crisis by proposing tax increases alongside changes in forest management.