By Cassandra Profita
Logging on Oregon’s state forests produced more than $97 million for county and state governments this year, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.
The state distributes about two-thirds of the timber revenue from the Tillamook, Clatsop, Santiam, Gilchrest and Sun Pass state forests to surrounding counties under a management agreement, and it uses the remainder for state forestry operations.
A log truck on the Trask River road, near Tillamook, Oregon.
ODF recently released its Council of Forest Trust Land Counties annual report on its management of about 729,000 acres of state forestland, including a tally of timber sales and revenue distribution.
The amount of money generated from logging on state forestland has been hotly debated as environmental groups push for more habitat protection for threatened and endangered species and counties have argued in court that the state has an obligation to maximize timber revenue for their benefit.
This year, the state distributed $61.8 million in timber revenue: $6.7 million to Marion, Linn and Clackamas counties from the 47,000-acre Santiam State Forest, $19.1 million to Clatsop County from the 147,000-acre Clatsop State Forest and $30.5 million to Tillamook, Washington and Columbia counties from the 357,000-acre Tillamook State Forest. Additional revenues went to Coos, Douglas, Josephine, Klamath and Lane counties.
The state’s share of the revenue was about $35.5 million, used for things like replanting trees in logged over areas, maintaining campgrounds and trails and improving wildlife habitat.
“Oregonians have a lot to be proud of when it comes to their state forestlands,” State Forester Cal Mukumoto said. “These working lands provide so much to so many, including funding for vital local services, places to connect with nature, clean water, and habitat for some of Oregon’s most rare and sensitive species.”
Bob Van Dyk, Oregon policy director for the environmental group Wild Salmon Center, said the current system puts too much pressure on the forests to deliver funding for state and local governments.
“It’s not a good idea to have local services depending on cutting down rare habitats,” he said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty about those revenues. If there’s a big forest fire, well, then there’s no revenue,” he said. “What happens if the forest burns down?”
Van Dyk said he’s hoping the state will find a way to decouple timber revenue from government services as it did with the Elliott State Forest when it bought the forest out of the Common School Fund so schools don’t have to rely on timber revenue from the forest.
Environmental advocates have supported the state’s efforts to develop a Habitat Conservation Plan that will add new environmental and legal protections for state forests but could reduce timber revenue that governments depend on.
Van Dyk said he expects the Oregon Legislature to take up the issue of decoupling state forests from government revenue in its next session.
“Our concern is that the current system sets rare habitats and forest conservation against important government services,” he said. “And that’s an old system. It’s one we just got rid of on the Elliott State Forest and it’s one we need to examine and move beyond.”
Oregon Department of Forestry spokesman Jason Cox said his agency is still in the process of developing a Habitat Conservation Plan for state forests, and that the Oregon Board of Forestry has yet to approve final plans. He said the plan should ensure both habitat protection for threatened and endangered species and timber revenue in the future.
“The aim of the Habitat Conservation Plan, if it were to be enacted, would be to provide that certainty and that steadiness over the next 70 years,” he said. “And that includes benefits to rural communities in terms of revenue.”
Cox said decoupling state forests from government services would have to be handled by the Legislature.
A Court of Appeals decision earlier this year concluded that state forests should be managed for multiple benefits, including water quality and wildlife habitat as well as timber revenue.