Forestry | Land | Ecotrope

Oregon counties propose selling federal land to make timber payments

Ecotrope | Sept. 15, 2010 8:49 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:46 p.m.

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Should BLM land be sold to ensure Oregon's county timber payments?

Should BLM land be sold to ensure Oregon's county timber payments?

Eighteen Oregon counties have put forward a proposal for federal legislation they say would solve longstanding battles over management of millions of acres of federal forestland in western Oregon.

The proposal, called the Federal Forest Counties and Schools Stabilization Act of 2010, involves a near-even split of about 2.2 million acres of federal land into protected forest habitat and private timberland. The bill would reserve more than 1.17 million acres as old-growth forest and sell 1.2 million acres to the highest bidder.

Proceeds from the land sale would help pay for a 10-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools safety net payments. The federal subsidy goes toward schools and public services in counties that have traditionally relied on a share of timber revenue from logging in federal forests. The safety net program is set to expire next year, potentially leaving Oregon schools and counties without $220 million in annual payments if it’s not reauthorized.

The Association of O&C Counties announced their plan for saving the safety net program Wednesday. The bill would would put some of the money from the federal land sale into a permanent trust to ensure 10 years of timber payments for 18 Oregon counties, and the rest would be used to make similar subsidy payments to counties across the country.

Supporters of this new proposal say it will not only fund schools and county services in western Oregon, but it will also create more than 20,000 new jobs in the timber industry. They have polling numbers showing public support for the idea, and they say the bill would cover about half the $6 billion cost of reauthorizing the safety net program.

“We have had almost two decades of controversy and seemingly endless federal government dithering, punctuated with periodic financial crises for local communities,” said Commissioner Doug Robertson of Douglas County, President of the Association of O&C Counties.  “Besides funding schools and county services, this proposal would help create more than 20,000 new, family wage jobs in Oregon communities that desperately need economic help.”

BLM is supposed to manage most of the former Oregon and California Railroad Co. lands for timber production to help pay for public services in the surrounding 18 counties, Robertson said. But since the early 1990s, timber harvest on the federal lands have dropped off, resulting in a 90 percent decline in revenues for public services and limping local economies.

Robertson said the BLM lands have a different legal mandate from National Forests, and they’re meant to be managed for timber production. But he’s not sure yet whether the timber industry, environmental groups and members of Oregon’s congressional delegation will support the bill.

There is a lot of background information on this issue online, including frequently asked questions, polling data and a valuation of the lands in question. It will be very interesting to see the reactions to this proposal. Stay tuned…

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