For many months, Oregon’s Congressional members, Greg Walden, Peter Defazio, and Kurt Schrader, worked on a solution for the imminent financial crisis facing many rural communities in Oregon that count on revenue generated from timber harvests off of O&C County Trust Lands (BLM) for county services.

Most of us in Oregon are familiar with the history behind this issue: we have counties in Oregon composed of more than 50% federal forestland – dead space for the counties when trees aren’t being cut. Not much timber harvesting is going on today due to environmental lawsuits and litigation gridlock. There is no way to economically diversify federal forestland and Uncle Sam doesn’t pay property taxes to the counties. Not a good situation.

While our three U.S. Representatives crafted The O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act, legislation that was right on in terms of producing a uniquely-Oregon solution for shoring up diminishing county services and providing new jobs for Oregonians, the draft legislation stalled mid-year and was never introduced. Kudos now to Governor Kitzhaber for trying to revitalize this effort by leading a collaborative charge that would increase the likelihood of successful passage through Congress of this legislation.

The Governor recently announced seven principles that will be inherent in amendment language written by a diverse workgroup to propel the Walden-Defazio-Schrader legislation forward. In a nutshell:

  1. Stabilize county funding to sufficiently meet basic public services
  2. Stable timber supply to provide employment, maintain manufacturing capacity, and continue infrastructure investments.
  3. Protect unique places by recognizing additional special wilderness areas
  4. Durable and adaptive conservation standards which recognize evolving science
  5. Conservation opportunities incenting private landowners to participate in achieving goals while protecting private property rights
  6. Achieve federal budget neutrality in recognition of federal fiscal situation
  7. Achieve scientific certainty through consistent management of forest cycles

Governor Kitzhaber wants consensus from this yet-to be-announced workgroup, but expects passable legislation to be drafted by the end of 2012. Consensus is admirable, but shouldn’t stall the solution that Oregonians so desperately need to keep their counties safe and working. I appreciate the Governor’s attention to this critical area that is bankrupting many Oregon rural counties and hurting the health of our forests. If we make progress with the BLM lands, just maybe we can eventually address the larger issue of U.S. Forest Service lands.

Steve Zika
CEO, Hampton Lumber