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Furor Over Forest Plan

Conservation groups have been eyeing Congressman Peter DeFazio’s forest trust plan with skepticism. Or rather, they have been eyeing the proposed plan. Part of their distrust of the trust plan is that it doesn’t actually officially exist on paper yet. 

DeFazio’s plan is aimed at solving Oregon’s ongoing question of how to generate money for cash-strapped counties when many counties, such as Lane County, are made up of federal lands that don’t generate taxes. Counties used to get timber money, but with logging down, that income has been reduced. Congressional bills such as Secure Rural Schools have filled in the gaps, but that funding has expired, leaving Lane County faced with a multi-million dollar shortfall. 

DeFazio’s plan would tentatively divide about 2.6 million acres of Oregon’s federal BLM land between conservation and logging. Each of the two sections would be managed by a board of trustees, creating a conservation trust and a timber trust.

Chandra LeGue of Oregon Wild says the group believes the plan “is bad for the environment and won’t even raise the money counties want.” Oregon Wild and six other conservation groups are proposing a plan of their own.

DeFazio says of the group’s criticism: “Oregon Wild and their allies continue to defend the status quo at the expense of our forests and rural communities.”

The congressman says the plan he envisions is a bipartisan, sustainable timber management plan that includes “historic conservation victories.” DeFazio says, “For the first time old-growth timber would be protected legislatively.” And he says the plan would protect the Rogue River wilderness and Devil’s Staircase. 

DeFazio adds, “Yes, the plan would involve harvesting timber, but it is focused on younger stands and harvests in a sustainable way to maintain forest health and protect the most sensitive areas.”

The conservation groups, which include Cascadia Wildlands and the Sierra Club in addition to Oregon Wild, say the problem with federal lands logging-based plans is that they depend on “support from national taxpayers for significant portions of their local operating expenses.” The groups say unsustainable logging levels have led to “threats to clean water and watersheds, wild salmon and birds and still did not result in sustainable funding for counties.”

The conservation groups’ “Shared Responsibility” plan calls for the federal government to transfer the 2.6 million acres of BLM lands to the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service for administrative savings. 

It also calls for Oregon to adopt an increase in the Oregon Forest Products Harvest Tax on private timberland owners, and for the counties to make modest increases in property taxes and utilize a portion of presently unutilized existing taxing authority.

LeGue says, “Our new plan keeps the trees standing and creates a new paradigm where all levels of government chip in to fund the counties.”

The federal lands issue as it affects Lane County will be discussed at an upcoming series of talks with Lane County Commissioner Rob Handy, public interest forester Roy Keene, and Architecture Week editor-in-chief Kevin Matthews at 6 pm Feb. 6, March 5, April 2, May 7 and June 4 at Cozmic Pizza.