By Jay Bozieviech
As a vocal supporter of Lane County’s successful public safety levy, I was encouraged to see so many citizens step up to support our local law enforcement and help keep violent offenders in jail.
However, as I testified to the Oregon House of Representatives, the levy doesn’t offer a permanent solution for stable revenues for essential services, nor does it assure a stronger economy in the future.
While voters approved an important but temporary lifeline for public safety programs, it is critical for Congress to provide a comprehensive solution that resolves the annual uncertainty of county timber payments.
I am hopeful that Congress will continue to work on solutions that restore active management to our Federal forestlands, including the unique O&C lands that, in the past, created jobs and a thriving economy for communities and reliable funding for county governments.
The Federal O&C Act of 1937 specifically set aside 2.4 million acres of these Federally-owned forest lands for the economic benefit of 18 Western Oregon counties. Unfortunately, the Federal Government has failed to keep its promise to O&C counties, and litigation and conflicting regulations have only made the situation worse.
When timber was still being harvested on O&C lands Lane County alone received around $17 million annually. In today’s dollars, this equates to about $30 million per year. To put this in perspective, the recently passed public safety levy will generate less than half that revenue without adding significantly to jobs. The levy, while desperately needed, is only a “Band-Aid” fix to a serious and long-term problem.
Rural Lane County citizens cannot afford to fund public safety without some change in a rural economy devastated by the lack of federal forest management. One result of this devastation is that 80% of students in Mapleton and Oakridge school districts are on free or reduced lunch programs. Poverty and unemployment consume government and rural communities’ resources without adding jobs that could pay to fund essential services.
Lane County has a large population base, a diversified economy and other attributes such as a world-class university. Other O&C counties are not so lucky. Many of these rural communities once thrived with vibrant timber-based economies, but now suffer from higher unemployment and higher poverty levels.
It’s easy to scorn the voters in other counties who recently rejected public safety levies, but criticism of these Oregonians reveals ignorance of the serious challenges of funding services where many people don’t have jobs and can’t afford higher taxes. Though Lane County voters approved the levy, I believe it is wrong to single out and penalize counties that are not as prosperous as we are.
It is a grave mistake to ignore the importance of renewable natural resources that exist in our O&C forests. Sustainable management of these resources will benefit both our economy and local governments. It is heartening that members of Oregon’s Federal delegation understand this and that our Governor is also advocating for changes in Federal policy. It’s great to see they are willing to cross party lines to find a permanent solution.
While the bipartisan Walden/Schrader/DeFazio “O&C Trust, Conservation, and Jobs Act” remains on the table, we have also seen Sen. Ron Wyden release a “framework” of possible legislation.
I hope our delegation continues to work together on a bill that helps rural communities across all O&C counties. I believe we have a solution that protects environmentally sensitive lands while allowing more timber harvesting where it is environmentally sustainable. Thanks to an existing Federal law prohibiting the export of raw logs from Federal lands, wood products from O&C lands would be processed and milled by workers here at home, thus creating jobs that pay taxes to fund county services.
By putting people back to work in the woods we can lift more rural communities out of poverty. Creating jobs combined with reliable timber receipts will generate more tax revenues to sustain vital services.
Now that the public safety levy has been approved and Lane County has some short term stability, we need Congress to pass real solutions to help fund these services over the long term.
Jay Bozievich – West Lane County Commissioner
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.
To uphold the federal governments’ commitment to rural and federally forested communities in western Oregon the O&C TRUST, CONSERVATION, AND JOBS ACT provides:
- Forested counties in western Oregon with a sustainable and more predictable level of revenues in perpetuity to support basic county government services like law enforcement, education, health, and transportation.
- Turns around nearly two decades of gridlock on federal forests that will help timber dependent counties in Western Oregon improve their economic and financial outlooks.
- Estimated to create thousands of new jobs in rural communities throughout Oregon and will reduce unacceptably high unemployment levels in the State.
- Moves counties away from an uncertain future of federal payments to a long-tern solution that meets the federal government’s obligation to federally forested communities while bringing jobs back to our communities and health back to our federal forests.
- Ensures legal certainty by establishing a fiduciary trust for the O&C Counties and ensures strong O&C county representation on the Board of Trustees to guarantee the Board’s fiduciary obligation to the 18 O&C Counties.
- Sets a fair standard for the federal government by requiring the Board of Trustees to provide a return from the O&C Trust lands to the American taxpayer and U.S. Treasury.
- Establishes a temporary federal loan to aid O&C Counties during transition to payments from the O&C Trust.
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.
ACT MYTHS AND FACTS
MYTH: The expiration of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, aka “county payments, will not have a major impact on forested counties in Oregon, so a long term forest management plan is not needed.
FACT: A new study by Oregon State University found that if county payments are not extended or replaced with a long-term solution, Oregon counties will face combined revenue losses of $215 million, and lose 4,000 jobs, $400 million in business sales, and $250 million in value added economic activity. In fact, without a viable long-term solution, some rural counties in western Oregon may be forced to declare a public safety emergency or dissolve.
MYTH: Congress could solve the county payments problem by assessing a tax on raw log exports.
FACT: A tax on raw log exports is unconstitutional. Article I, Section 9, Clause 5 of the U.S. Constitution directly states, “No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State.”
MYTH: The O&C Trust, Conservation, and Jobs Act (OCTCJA) is a bad deal for taxpayers.
FACT: Taxpayers spend $110 million per year to manage 2.6 million acres of O&C forests in western Oregon. OCTCJA would require a Board of Trustees to assume all management costs for the Trust lands, saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars per year by reducing.fhr annual federal management costs associated with the management of western Oregon timberlands. Additionally, the Board of Trustees would be required to submit an annual payment to the United States Treasury to help pay down the federal deficit, Finally, active management will create thousands of jobs and produce net revenue for American taxpayers while ensuring county governments can provide essential county services, like law enforcement, education, health, and transportation.
MYTH: The plan would make it more difficult for private landowners to access and manage their own lands.
FACT: The plan preserves and protects all existing and valid rights of neighboring land owners, including tail hold, road access, and right-of-way agreements.
MYTH: O&C Lands will be sold to Wall Street speculators.
FACT: No O&C Lands will be sold. All O&C Lands will remain in public ownership and the public will retain access privileges.
MYTH: This plan has few conservation components.
FACT: The plan includes 90,000 acres of new wilderness, 150 miles of new Wild and Scenic river designations, and provides the first legislative protection for mature and old growth forests. The plan also excludes environmentally sensitive areas, parks and recreation areas, wild and scenic corridors, and wilderness areas from the O&C Trust lands.
MYTH: This will make it more difficult to control wildfires.
FACT: The plan would maintain the existing cooperative fire protection agreements for the O&C Trust, Forest Service and adjoining private lands.
MYTH: The Act does not provide any protection for the Northern Spotted Owl.
FACT: The plan specifically mandates that the O&C Trust Lands be managed in compliance with federal and state laws as those laws apply to private forest lands. This includes complying with ESA provisions that prohibit harm or take of threatened or endangered species. Consistent with the intent of the Northwest Forest Plan and Owl Recovery Plan, old growth forests, which serve as the best habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl, will be excluded from the management trust
MYTH: The Act undermines the Northwest Forest Plan
FACT: The intent of the Northwest Forest Plan was to provide a sustainable supply of timber while protecting habitat critical to the survival of threatened species, such as the Northern Spotted Owl and salmon. The plan strives to accomplish these intended goals – which the Northwest Forest Plan failed to achieve – by providing greater certainty about what lands are eligible for sustainable logging and what lands are to be set aside to sustain threatened species.
MYTH: OCTCJA sweetheart deal for rural Oregon counties so they don’t have to raise property taxes.
FACT: There are constitutional limitations on property tax increases in Oregon. As a recent Oregon State University study confirmed, even if counties were able to obtain voter approval to increase property, lodging, and real estate taxes, rural Oregon counties would only be able to make up 8-24 percent of the funding gap. The plan fulfills a historical commitment to federally forested communities in Oregon by creating thousands of jobs in our forests and mills, and providing a sustainable and more predictable level of revenues in perpetuity to support basic county services like law enforcement, education, health, and transportation.
MYTH: Millions of acres public forests will be converted into industrial plantations.
FACT: Private industry lands in Oregon are typically managed on a 30-40 year rotation. The plan requires at least half of the landscape to be managed on a long rotation of between 100-120 years and to be geographically dispersed across the landscape to provide ecological diversity. The plan also minimizes the use of pesticides and provides protections for old growth.
MYTH: OCTCJA would increase logging exports to China.
FACT: The plan explicitly prohibits exporting raw logs from the O&C Trust lands. The plan would continue the ban on exporting unprocessed logs from federal lands and impose penalties on businesses that violate the law and send family-wage jobs overseas.
MYTH: Revenues from logging cannot support rural counties because the timber market is so bad.
FACT: While there is still current demand for timber, it remains far below historic levels. The proposed O&C Trust would not be fully operational for two years after enactment thus providing some time for timber markets to recover. The plan requires the Board of Trustees to capitalize a Reserve Fund to balance payments to counties in years of market volatility. Finally, the plan requires the Board of Trustees to offer timber sales on a competitive basis.
MYTH: The Board of Trustees will be exempt from federal lows and the public process.
FACT: The O&C Trust Lands will be managed in compliance with federal and state laws as they apply to private forest lands in Oregon, including the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act The :general public will be represented on the Board of Trustees and meetings of the Board involving :management decisions will be open to the public.
MYTH: This plan does not address the “checkerboard” nature of the O&C Lands that have created significant management challenges-
FACT: The plan expedites land exchanges between the federal government, the O&C Trust lands, and private landowners to create larger contiguous blocks of forested land in western Oregon and to improve management efficiencies of both federal and private land.