The Oregon Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from timber counties seeking to maximize logging revenue on 700,000 acres of state forestland.
The state’s highest court denied the counties’ appeal without issuing an opinion on Friday, quietly closing a chapter in a long-running debate over forest management in Oregon and a more than $1 billion lawsuit over timber revenue.
“It’s the end of the road for what has been a false narrative for far too long … that it’s the public forestland’s obligation to provide the bulk of the revenues for local communities,” said Ralph Bloemers, who represented fishing and conservation groups in the case.
The decision leaves in place a lower court ruling from April saying that Oregon can manage forests for a range of values that include recreation, water quality and wildlife habitat — not just logging revenue.
“Today’s announcement by the Oregon Supreme Court is disappointing,” Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist said in a statement. “The underlying issue of forest practices on public lands is left unresolved.”
Linn is one of several Oregon counties and special taxing districts that receive a cut of logging profits from forestland they gave to the state in the 1930s and ‘40s. Oregon agreed to manage those lands, which were mostly burned and logged over at the time of donation, “so as to secure the greatest permanent value of those lands to the state.”
Oregon has funneled millions of dollars to the counties over the years, bolstering local budgets. But 13 counties took the state to court, saying the state was shortchanging them. “Greatest permanent value,” they argued, equals maximum timber revenue.
A Linn County jury agreed in 2019 and ordered Oregon to pay $1.1 billion plus interest in damages to the timber counties. The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed the verdict earlier this year.
The Oregon Department of Justice, which represented the state government in the case, issued a written statement Friday calling the Supreme Court’s decision a “victory for Oregon’s environment and for sound forest management in general.”
“Our forests serve a range of environmental, recreational, and economic purposes,” the statement reads. “By allowing what we argued was the correct decision of the Court of Appeals to stand, we have a swifter resolution and finality after a 6-year dispute.”