Oregon’s rural communities cannot afford another 20 years of gridlock in our federal forest. Without a new path forward, mills will continue to disappear, forest jobs will be outsourced, counties will be pushed of the budgetary cliff, and forest health will continue to decline.
A bipartisan plan now before Congress, “O&C Trust, Conservation, and Jobs Act” would create thousands of new jobs in Oregon’s forested communities, ensure the health of federal forests for future generations, and provide long-term funding certainty for Oregon’s rural schools, roads and law enforcement agencies.
Federal support payment to rural and forested communities commonly known as “county payments” or “timber payments” that have helped support rural Oregon counties for over a decade expired on September 30, 2011. Lack of revenues from timber harvest from our federal forests or a continuation of timber payments in lieu of timber revenue will have serious consequences for Oregon families and businesses. A recent Oregon State University study found that without timber payments, Oregon’s rural counties will shed between 3,000 and 4,000 jobs. Oregon business sales will drop an estimated $385 million to $400 million. Also, Oregon’s rural counties will lose $250 million to $300 million in revenues.
For counties already near the financial cliff and facing depression-like unemployment, this could be the final blow. In fact, a few counties in southern Oregon may soon call for a public safety emergency and will be forced to eliminate most state-mandated services- including police, jails, courts and services that help the neediest citizens in our communities.
This should alarm all Oregonians, even those who do not live in rural communites. Failing counties will have both budgetary and quality of life consequences for the entire state. Vital county services would be severely restricted or altogether disappear. Counties will continue to release offenders and close jail beds. Pot-holed roads and structurally deficient bridges will be neglected and school funding throughout the state will be reduced.
Given the serious fiscal crisis our counties and schools face, a new approach is necessary to create jobs, help stabilize funding for our schools and communities and better manage our forest. Passage of “O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act” is essential.