Special Alert: From handouts to clearcuts - exposing the O&C controversy

Senator Wyden and Oregon Counties failed to do their job, and they want to clearcut our public forests to bail them out.

By now you've probably heard of "O&C lands."

But have you heard what Oregon's county leaders have done with their massive federal subsidies for the last 13 years to bolster their economies? No? Me neither.

It's time we ask the tough questions, together.

In this special email we have compiled resources from multiple sources on this complex issue. If after reading you are as disappointed in our leaders and concerned for our forests as I am, then share this with your friends. Call your US Senator. Think about what Oregon's forests mean to you.

In the next month our forests will need you. Bark will soon ask you to make small sacrifices of your time and energy to keep these forests standing for generations to come.

Alex P Brown, Executive Director

PS – Want to do more, now? Please join us for this Sunday’s monthly Bark About hike, or our upcoming Groundtruthing and Forest Policy Crash Course trainings later this month.

The legacy of O&C Lands- boom, bust and bailouts

In the late 1800s, the federal government granted roughly two and a half million acres of land to the Oregon and California (O&C) Railroad company, which eventually made its way under jurisdiction of the federal Bureau of Land Management.

The O&C Lands Act of 1937 established a way for the 18 urban and rural counties containing O&C lands to receive revenue by mandating that 50% of profits from logging (timber receipts) be awarded to the counties in which these lands were situated.

Logging in the 20th century annihilated old growth on O&C lands- yet generated massive profits for the timber industry and fueled the short-lived timber economies of counties. The inevitable crash in the timber industry in the 1980s and 90s left the counties still reliant on timber receipts for revenue scrambling to fill the revenue void.

The Secure Rural Schools and Communities Self Determination Act passed in 2000 was an effort to transition O&C counties away from an unsustainable timber economy by providing direct government subsidies in the form of 'county payments.' The subsidy was based on an average of the three top revenue grossing timber harvests for each county, thus allowing the counties ample resources to achieve "self determination."

Click here for a detailed history of O&C lands.

After 13 years of handouts... county leaders cry foul

Thirteen years after the Secure Rural Schools and Self Determination Act, the federal government is ready to cut off subisidies to counties for good.

Yet despite well over a decade of county payments, there has been little effort by counties or elected officials to move past timber toward long term economic solutions.

In fact, the counties worst-off have some of the lowest property tax rates in the state and continually vote down any increases to fund much needed services.

Enter Oregon's Senator Ron Wyden and Oregon’s congressional delegation with backward plans to ramp up logging and clearcuts and kick the can down the road for another generation.

One step forward, thirty years back

Sen. Ron Wyden (OR-D) is expected to release a bill later this month to bailout rural counties in Oregon that 30 years ago relied on unsustainable logging as their primary industry.

What does this mean for the O&C forests?

According to the Eugene Register-Guard, the bill will likely put “All the hard-fought rules governing logging on federal land in the Pacific Northwest for the past 30 years… up in the air.” 

While Sen. Wyden is closely guarding the details of his bill, we don't expect much in the way of environmental values. Wyden has indicated that he will propose placing public land into a private timber trust that would allow logging under the severely limited standards of the Oregon Forest Practices Act (recently highlighted in a front page Oregonian story on its horrendous impacts to watershed health).

To top it off, Wyden will likely propose to 'streamline and clarify’ (read: gut) key environmental laws, like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which would devastate public lands not just in Oregon, but across the nation.

Call Senator Wyden's Portland office at 503-326-7525 and ask their office what options they are considering to help Oregon counties that does not sacrifice our forests.

We need leadership from Senator Wyden, not simple fixes to cover up the lack of leadership in Oregon counties for the last 13 years. He got Oregon counties on the right track by championing the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000.

But Oregon's leaders, from Senator Wyden down to every elected county commissioner, failed to take advantage of 13 years of generous federal subsidies and now they want all of Oregon, and our public forests, to pay for their mistakes.

Call Wyden's office at 503-326-7525. You don't need to know the details, a simple message is enough. Say as an Oregonian you care about environmental values. Ask Wyden to propose a legislative solution for Oregon counties that does not sacrifice our forests.

Rural counties need real solutions

Oregon’s rural O&C Counties need real solutions, not another boom and bust timber cycle. And with threatened Northern Spotted Owls in precipitous decline, most low-elevation old growth in Oregon lost, and many municipal drinking watersheds at risk, this is no time to be easing up on the laws that protect public lands, water and wildlife. 

Thank you for making a quick call to Senator Wyden at 503-326-7525, and keep an eye out for more ways to plug-in coming soon.

Email  Meredith@bark-out.org fo r more information or to get involved. 

Photo credits: Clearcut at top- Francis Eatherington, Streamside clearcut- Chandra LeGrue