By Chris Smith
A recent Oregon Public Broadcasting news report described how logging companies and timber lobbyists are funding Linn County's $1.4 billion lawsuit against the state of Oregon for alleged mismanagement of state forests.
John DiLorenzo, the Portland attorney representing Linn County and apparently the timber industry, claimed that timber companies were funding the suit because they "happen to have operations where the county governments are hardly able to function anymore. ... A lot of those mills are in areas that are suffering because they have no police protection, no sheriff's department, nothing."
In his statement, DiLorenzo implies that this lawsuit is not about providing more logs to mills at the edge of our state forests — mills owned by Hampton Affiliates and Stimson Lumber.
The industry, Hampton, Stimson, and their lobbyist, the Oregon Forest Industries Council, surely have their eyes set on more logs from increased clear-cutting should Linn County prevail in its lawsuit. Because the clear outcome of the suit — should the state lose — would be a dramatic departure from multi-use forest management toward something resembling the industrial model seen on private forest lands throughout Oregon.
Most of the state forest land base is already open to clear-cutting. While many rural counties are experiencing budget shortfalls, increasing clear-cutting on state forests is not a long-term solution — not economically and not ecologically. In the case of Linn County, for example, a 20 percent increase in state forest harvest and revenue would increase the county budget by less than 1 percent.
Oregon Employment Department data indicate that increasing harvest does not proportionally align with an increase in timber jobs. This is in large part due to timber mill mechanization but also the choice by many logging companies to ship raw logs oversees for processing. While state forest logs can't be shipped overseas, massive stacks of logs await transport at ports along our coast while the timber industry complains of starving mills.
The social and environmental damages of industrial-style clear-cutting are well documented: health risks from aerial pesticide application and contaminated drinking water; aquatic habitat degradation from inadequate stream buffers and landslides; and biological deserts where diverse forests used to be. Communities are arguably more the victims than the beneficiaries of this type of forestry.
Oregonians should be working to improve public services in rural communities, and the timber industry is a good place to start. Efforts should be focused on overhauling the tax structure for large industrial forest owners.
Since 1999, private timber owners with more than 5,000 acres of land pay the Forest Products Harvest Tax, the bulk of which funds firefighting on private land and the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, a quasi-government agency that claims to inform the public on forestry issues yet links clear-cutting with healthy forests. Forest Harvest Tax dollars do not provide any funding for county or state services.
The timber industry, which depends upon public resources, should take broader account of its impacts on people, our economy and our environment.
Chris Smith works for the North Coast State Forest Coalition, which seeks balanced management of the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests.
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