Economic Study of Wyden O&C Bill

Headwaters Economics takes a look at Wyden’s O&C Bill


Wyden logging bill would favor urban counties in Ore. — analysis

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
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A bill by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to double timber harvests in western Oregon would provide nearly enough revenue to replace current federal aid for forested counties, but metropolitan counties would enjoy a disproportionate amount of the new revenue, according to a new analysis.Wyden’s bill by 2023 would provide $33 million in annual timber revenue for Oregon’s 18 O&C counties, about 10 percent less than what they received in Secure Rural School payments last year, according to the analysis by Bozeman, Mont.-based Headwaters Economics.But rural counties would see substantial revenue losses compared to what they received from SRS, which compensates counties that experienced a decline in timber revenues, while urban, relatively affluent counties would see their payments increase by up to 80 percent.

That’s because Wyden’s bill stipulates that timber revenue be allocated based on the relative taxable value of land as of 1915, delivering a higher per-acre share of receipts to counties including Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah compared to rural ones including Douglas, Josephine and Klamath and Linn.

In contrast, the decade-old SRS program allocates money based on historic revenue sharing, relative per-capita income and the share of total acres of federal forests, Headwaters said.

“This analysis raises a broader issue related to county payments — the tension between recoupling payments to commercial receipts and continuing to make payments from the federal treasury,” the analysis said.

The analysis comes as environmental, county and timber officials continue to digest the 188-page logging bill Wyden unveiled last week (Greenwire, Nov. 26).

Wyden’s office estimated that the bill would roughly double timber harvests to 350 million board feet a year. But it said twice that amount of logging would be needed to replace the $35 million that O&C counties received from SRS last year.

O&C counties currently receive 50 percent of federal timber receipts.

Wyden’s bill and a similar measure by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) seek to revive logging on the roughly 2.4 million acres of O&C forests, boosting revenues for cash-strapped rural counties.

Logging levels plummeted on O&C lands in the 1990s following protections for the northern spotted owl. As federal assistance has declined, some O&C counties have cut key services including law enforcement.

Revenue will be a key consideration for O&C counties as they weigh both bills. While DeFazio argues that his bill would generate more county revenue, Wyden has argued that his proposal is more politically viable.

Environmental groups have roundly opposed DeFazio’s bill, though some have signaled support for Wyden’s measure.

Still, the Association of O&C Counties this week voiced strong skepticism toward Wyden’s bill, saying it fails to maximize the productive capacity of O&C forests (E&E Daily, Dec. 3).

Wyden has said he intends to introduce companion legislation to extend long-term funding to counties that receive SRS money. Such a bill could address possible discrepancies in timber payments to rural and urban counties.

Wyden has argued that his bill would create new logging and milling jobs while increasing regulatory certainty through streamlined National Environmental Policy Act reviews.

Headwaters said its analysis underscores the need to also reauthorize SRS, which expired at the end of last September.

“Managing land to maximize commercial receipts may not be the most effective way to create jobs or safeguard the environment,” the analysis said. “Companion legislation decoupling payments from commercial receipts will focus the discussion of the O&C Act of 2013 to focus squarely on the proper management of public lands for economic and conservation purposes.”

Conservation groups support SRS, warning that dependence on commodity payments puts undue pressure on counties to develop public lands.

O&C counties are entitled to 75 percent of timber revenues but have historically received 50 percent of those revenues. Counties surrounding national forestlands are entitled to 25 percent of timber receipts.

Wyden’s bill would provide O&C counties between 60 and 68 percent of timber revenues, Headwaters said.

3 thoughts on “Economic Study of Wyden O&C Bill”

  1. Steve: I think you made a spelling error. Shouldn’t this be “Iconic Study of Wyden O&C Bill”?

    I like the AFRC approach and the open skepticism given the Franklin-Johnson “ecological forestry” model that Wyden embraces. The real problem is that the O&C lands are entirely contained in western Oregon, but are managed from Washington, DC — and in almost total indifference to their original purpose for being created. An additional management problem has always been their checkerboard pattern of ownership, in total disregard of topography and biology.

    If these lands were: 1) bought, sold and traded into ownership patterns that were organized topographically (subbasins, ideally) rather than an artificial checkerboard pattern, and then 2) transferred to the counties and tribes in which they are contained — our counties would not need to keep going to the federal government for assistance, thousands of needed jobs would be created (sending money to the treasury), our communities and wildlife populations would be made a lot safer from wildfire risk, and there would be plenty of room for both recreation and endangered species. And it would be a lot cheaper and easier to implement common sense forest management plans and rebuild destroyed manufacturing and shipping facilities, which precludes most of the above. In my opinion.

    • Economic Study. My bad!

      Bob, I agree that the counties could do well with these lands. Clackamas County, where I live, manages ~3K acres of timberland, with harvest revenue going to a trust fund for county park operations. This same model could work for any O&C lands transferred to counties. However, the chances of such as transfer happening are extremely slim at best.

      • I think so, too — but “extremely slim at best” is probably more hopeful than likely. At some point, though, it would seem like the USFS and BLM would return to managing their lands as originally agreed, rather than continue to allow them to deteriorate into deadly, costly, and ugly wastelands. If we can’t even manage our own resources, I’m guessing someone at some future time — hopefully US citizens — will show us how to do it.


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