Lane County Board of Commissioners Chair Sid Leiken comments on Governor Kitzhaber’s letter to the Federal Delegation regarding future management of the O and C lands of Western Oregon
I would like to express my thanks to Governor John Kitzhaber for convening a group of Oregon stakeholders to take on the exceedingly tough public policy issue of how to best manage the O and C lands of Western Oregon. He has clearly prioritized this issue. His willingness to put into writing his expectations for our Congressional leaders should be appreciated by all of Lane County’s citizens, especially given the huge amount of federal land that surrounds our communities.
His letter to the Oregon delegation of the United States Congress summarizing the work of his panel could not have come at a better time. Literally today, Lane County received its last check from the federal government with dollars that came as a result of the Secure Rural Schools Act, first passed into law in 2000 under the leadership of Senator Ron Wyden. Notably, that check held back $500,000 of O and C revenue due to an un-expected and un–appreciated maneuver by the Department of the Interior. These are the very dollars that Lane County would be able to use for critical public safety services and their elimination is precisely why the Board of County Commissioners has been discussing putting a modest property tax proposal in front of the voters of Lane County.
The Governor clearly understands the tough road ahead for our federal delegation. These lands are unique to western Oregon, and their fate lies in the hands of the entirety of the US Congress. With Senator Wyden’s historic advocacy for the communities of Western Oregon and the more recent and courageous bi-partisan plan created by House members DeFazio, Walden, and Schrader, Governor Kitzhaber’s recommendations provide a foundation that should quickly lead to collaboration amongst the entirety of the federal delegation. Speaking with one voice united between the House and the Senate is crucially important given the rancourous nature of the current political environment in Washington DC.
It remains my belief that a way forward can only be charted if there is a sense of shared responses from local, state, and federal partners. Governor Kitzhaber states “Oregon state and local governments should share in the responsibility to fill any gap which may remain between timber revenues and the funding level required to keep counties fiscally viable.” I know that both the Governor and our delegation are aware that Lane County is contemplating a local money measure that would fund jail beds and youth services. Our residents also know that this new revenue will not cover the entirety of our public safety structure. I am willing to take the first step to place the shared response the Governor speaks to squarely on our shoulders. In doing so, I am confident that if we are successful there will be even more reason for the state and the federal government to act. Allowing some responsible degree of harvest to return to these forests is an absolute must.