Editorial: Listing of O&C lands as endangered rankles

Thanks to the reader who sent this in from the Corvallis Gazette-Times.

The conservation group Oregon Wild last week released a report in which it named western Oregon’s O&C forests the most endangered place in the state.

The ranking is part of an annual report of endangered public lands in Oregon — an annual rundown of areas the group believes are at risk from “logging, mining, pollution and other harmful development.”

We understand that this type of report is crafted to draw public attention. We also understand that writing about the report requires falling into that trap.

But, still, something about this year’s rankings rankles: They are tone-deaf to the broader issues related to the long-running saga of the O&C lands and the counties that rely on them.

These lands, about 2.6 million acres, originally were granted to the Oregon & California Railroad to build a railroad line.

The lands were reconveyed to the federal government in 1916 and now are managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Benton County includes about 53,000 acres of O&C lands.

Since 1916, the 18 counties where the O&C lands are located have received payments from the federal government to compensate for the loss of tax revenue, starting with a 50 percent share of timber revenue on those lands.

As we cut back on timber harvests on federal lands, those payments were trimmed back as well. Now, the counties with O&C lands are struggling, to different degrees, to find replacement sources of revenue and some counties, primarily in southwest Oregon, teeter on the brink of financial failure.

What fuels the worries of Oregon Wild and other groups is a proposal making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives to place the O&C lands into two trusts.

Roughly half of the acreage would be managed for conservation; the remainder would focus on sustainable timber production to help fund county coffers – and maybe even restore some rural jobs in the timber industry.

Oregon Wild worries that the proposal, being pushed by Reps. Greg Walden and Peter DeFazio, among others, amounts to a license to clearcut big swaths of the O&C lands.

We doubt that would be the result — in part because those practices increasingly are unacceptable to the public, but also because no one expects the House plan to make any headway in the Senate. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden has a similar proposal, which would increase timber harvests on the lands, but to a lesser extent than the House legislation.

It’s likely the two plans will meet in a conference committee.

To its credit, the full Oregon Wild report, while it emphasizes the importance of tourism and recreation, does talk about the need to find a long-term solution to county funding, and it suggests that badly needed restoration work on our forests would get people back to work.

We agree with that. So does everyone else, as far as we can tell. So what’s the holdup?

Sharon’s note: Hmm. I think the “hold-up” is that no one wants to pay for it (!). You could make a downpayment, though, with the 50K or so that went to the Oregonian full page ads…

And at the risk of offending my West Side friends, I have seen many nice forest places to play across the West and I don’t think the rainy, damp West side is among most people’s favorites.
In fact, the people from there tend to recreate on the East side, at least when I lived in the Bend area. I wonder if people considered that in their ideas about tourism replacing timber harvesting? As we used to say in Region 2, “Hope is not a strategy.”

10 Comments

  1. Tourism and recreation are not going to power the economy of these rural counties,ever.
    One of the sad parts of this theory is that just the opposite is happening, our federal land owners, due to “budget deficits” are closing campgrounds and closing roads. Where are the tourists and recreationalist suppose to stay and how are they going to get there?
    Oregon Wild and other environmental groups are always saying that tourism is more valuable than logging. (of course I think you can have both).
    But if you spend much time off the beaten track up in our forests first thing you notice is that nobody is there. 99% of the people you do run into are, loggers, hunters and federal forest workers.(I guess they are working).
    Tourist like amenities, they might drive trough and take some pictures, but they really aren’t spending much time in the forests or much money in our rural towns.(hardly enough to keep the coffee kiosk open).
    I think another thing to remember most all forest restoration work is paid for by the taxpayer and if I am hearing right we are a little short on taxpayers money. It might just be possible to have restoration work paid for by sale of forests products.
    I think we need a timber sales program on our federal lands that would include a variety of species and age groups,(that includes “old growth”), that is sustainable and consistent. I think most of these timber sales should be on the small side so everybody could participate. Give the local people the opportunity to get back to work making wood products.

  2. The O&C deal is far more complicated than the revenue sharing or extent of clear cutting.

    Perhaps the land should be sold to private investors with the proceeds going to the counties? The private investors might figure out ways to get the most bang for the buck and then government would not be blammed for keeping the counties on Federal Welfare.

    The complications involve getting the bill passed. Wyden had to agree to transferring 70,000 acres of the highest productive old growth of the Tongass National Forest to a private corporation. That deal is worth about 5 Billion in public assets but CBO has put a 3 Million figure on the deal. That is how corrupt a process Wyden is leading.

    There are wilderness bills that were also contingent on the O&C lands handed out as chits to almost every Senator on the Energy Committee that Wyden chairs.

    More details here http://tongasslowdown.org/TL/view.html

  3. I can vouch for the accuracy of stump’s statement: “But if you spend much time off the beaten track up in our forests first thing you notice is that nobody is there.” Exactly right. You can get lots of privacy and fish, but hunting is terrible and the roads are worse and have become impassable in spots. Recreation in passively managed forests is a joke, unless you really know the terrain and know where you are going (and how to safely get there). Like Sharon says, most of the Oregon west-siders who go into the woods to recreate go to the eastside of the state. Californians and actual workers = 0. Fire danger = climbing annually. Cell phone coverage = nonexistent or spotty.

    So far as RedDog’s concerns with Wyden, he’s probably looking at ignorance and gullibility more than dishonesty. Wyden is a professional committee goer that has accomplished nothing for western Oregon communities in the past 20 years. What he has done is acquire some seniority by keeping his butt in a chair, not making waves, and not getting anything done. His “solutions” are a joke and just more indication of his incompetence at addressing — or doing anything about — forestry issues and problems. He is an expert at keeping his job and accomplishing nothing meaningful while doing so. He’ll be gone in a while and no one will notice.

  4. I disagree with this statement as factual: “In fact, the people from there tend to recreate on the East side, at least when I lived in the Bend area.” It seems far-fetched, because there are lots of popular places for recreation on the west side of the Cascade crest and in the Coast Range – too many trails, campsites, and scenic spots to list. Does any data back up your statement? Most of the people I know in Eugene, Salem, and Portland regularly recreate on the west side. Trips to Bend and the Wallowas definitely occur, but not as frequently due to the distance and the amazing terrain and forests found closer by in the rainy, damp west-side. Not too much rain in the summer on the west side, though.

    • John: I think the key word here is “tend.” When I was younger, we went hunting in the Tillamook Burn. As the deer there began to be replaced with brush and plantations, we went to K Falls, the Ochocos, or the Blues out of Baker. Like many west-side hunters, we followed the deer more than anything. Same with fishing: steelhead, the Kalama; large trout, Wickiup; salmon, the Columbia, both east and west; crappie and catfish, Snake River, and so on.

      Yes, there are a lot of trails and campsites listed westside, but as I and others have pointed out in recent comments, they are mostly vacant — even in summer. Why do you think so many of them are closed? Why so many Wilderness trails and side roads have been abandoned in recent years?

      I am guessing — please be truthful here — that “most of the people” you know in Eugene, Salem, and Portland: 1) do very little fishing and hunting, and 2) emigrated to Oregon from somewhere else. That’s the pattern I keep seeing, and have been seeing for 40+ years, over and over, although I’m not too familiar with current literature in this regard.

      • Sharon’s statement does not match my own experiences. Even with the key word “tend” it seems an over-statement.

        What is the relevance of the type of recreation or place of birth of the people I know that currently live, work, and recreate in Oregon?

        I know too many people that fish to count and just a handful that hunt, but what does it matter here? Recreation doesn’t only include fishing and hunting.

        Lots of people I know have moved to Oregon from elsewhere, but not all. Those that moved to Oregon made specific choices to live in the state for a variety of reasons, including recreation opportunities. Do their recreation choices only matter after a certain number of years of residency? If they have kids born in Oregon will their kids’ recreation choices have more weight than the emigrant parents’? Or do only Oregonians whose roots go back a certain number of generations in the state matter in conversations about how shared public lands are managed?

        Anecdotal evidence that trails and campsites are mostly vacant doesn’t tell us much and can’t really be given much weight. If there is specific evidence it’d be interesting to see. I don’t dispute that some trails and roads have fallen into disuse. We all know the Forest Service has a huge maintenance backlog. Not all trails and roads will get the same amount of use, regardless.

        Stump says “But if you spend much time off the beaten track up in our forests first thing you notice is that nobody is there.” Well, isn’t that why it’s called “off the beaten track”?

        • John,
          1) I don’t know that anyone keeps track of where tourists come from and where they go. so yours and mine are equally factual or not impressions. I do know that people don’t go to Westfir to ski, but they do go to Bachelor.

          2) people from Portland and Eugene who go camping probably bring their stuff and may not contribute a great deal to the local economies, unlike people from out of state. I bet the economic development folks in Oregon might have some idea.

          3) but tourism and timber harvesting are not incompatible.. once again, look at the Black Hills.. retirement homes, tourism, timber harvesting.. all apparently compatible.

          4) The “hope” strategy of the NW Forest Plan (based on my memory, please correct me if my memory is wrong) was that logs would still come off the matrix lands in the amounts agreed , spotted owls would recover, and tourism would grow to replace the economic contribution of harvesting. Can we agree that those things never happened? So what do we do now? Are we “doing the same things but expecting a different outcome?”

          • If your statement had said “ski” instead of “recreate,” or even “recreate in the winter,” it’d be easier to accept as an “in fact” statement.

            It’s not clear to me that campers from Portland or Eugene necessarily spend less in rural communities. Do all these out-of-staters buy their tents and sleeping bags in the rural communities of Oregon? People from Portland and Eugene surely stop for gas, food, and last-minute needs on their way to the woods, rivers, and mountains just like out-of-staters.

            The Oregon Wild report discussed above acknowledges restoration work is necessary, so it is not saying tourism and restoration are necessarily incompatible. I don’t think the Black Hills National Forest is an ideal model for balance, let alone balance that would work for Oregon, given its listed species.

            Perhaps the expectations set by the Northwest Forest Plan need adjusted in light of all the factors at play that we know even more about now: automation at mills, market forces, the type of restoration actually needed, increased understanding of the various threats to species, increased awareness of climate change, and the need to protect drinking water sources and high-quality habitat for salmonids in various life stages.

  5. just a side note here, it seems to me that a large proportion of the catastrophic fires on the westside of the Cascades have been on matrix lands. Yet still you can’t salvage harvest them, or if you do is amounts to about 1% of the dead trees and then after a few years there is nothing left to harvest. Which kind of wipes out the potential of sustainable harvest from these lands.

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