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.”