Private citizens, members of Cottage Grove’s Forest Web and former Lane County commissioner Jerry Rust are concerned the decisions about Oregon’s public forests, and specifically the O&C forests that have been used to generate cash for counties, are being made in secret. Rust and Cristina Hubbard of Forest Web held a press conference and delivered letters to Gov. Kitzhaber’s office on Dec. 18 asking him to open his O&C “timber panel” up for citizen participation.
Tim Raphael, a spokesperson with the governor’s office, says he has not yet seen the letters in the office. He adds, “The governor is pleased with the substantive discussion underway and has approved extending the meetings into January.”
O&C counties were in the past funded by logging on federal Bureau of Land Management O&C forests and later as logging slowed, by Secure Rural Schools payments. Those payments have dried up, and the O&C counties, including Lane, are looking for funding.
The panel is made up of county commissioners, forest industry representatives and conservation groups. Conservation group Oregon Wild, a vociferous opponent of the DeFazio-Schrader-Walden forest trust plan that would divide the forest between logging and conservation, was not invited to be on the panel.
Hubbard says she and Rust wanted to call attention to the fact that the timber panel is not open to public comment and that there have been “no public comments or hearings since DeFazio first introduced the bill.”
An Oregon reporter for the conservative think-tank funded Watchdog.org, who attended Rust and Hubbard’s press conference in Salem, was reporting that Sen. Ron Wyden would introduce a Senate version of the O&C trust bill, but Wyden spokesperson Tom Towslee says the story was inaccurate, and Wyden’s office doesn’t know what the results of the committee’s discussions will be. He says Wyden “will obviously look very closely with what they come up with.”
Hubbard says Forest Web is concerned about the timber trust and forest plan because Cottage Grove, where the group is based, is surrounded by BLM lands with private properties checkerboarded among O&C lands. She says if the O&C lands are managed like private industrial timberlands, then clear-cuts and pesticide sprays could take place next to Cottage Grove residences and farms. She also says the plan exempts the logging portion — which, Hubbard says, “is starting to look more like 70 percent” of the O&C forests — from federal environmental laws and “that’s really critical.”
The concerns regarding decisions about logging public forests being made in secrecy are at the county level as well, activists say. Lane County resident Mora Dewey attempted to attend the meeting of the Association of O&C Counties (AOCC) that was held in Eugene in early December. Dewey says she has been working to make the AOCC meetings public since 2009, because though the membership of the AOCC is elected public officials, the group itself is private. Commissioner Faye Stewart, who was at the AOCC meeting, confirms that it is a “private volunteer organization” and that Lane County has paid dues for 2012-2013.
In previous budget cycles, Lane County paid $37,000 in dues for its AOCC membership. The County Commission voted 3-2, with Rob Handy and Pete Sorenson voting no, to sign a memorandum of understanding with the AOCC in August to allow the group to represent Lane County during the BLM’s forest planning.
Dewey attended part of the AOCC meeting but was asked to leave for a “private” discussion. She says she questions how a private group made up of public officials can make decisions affecting public lands in secret.