Seeking a chance to participate in the legal discussion, the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners endorsed a Council of Forest Trust Land Counties budget Wednesday that included money put forward by the county toward a federal lawsuit over protection for marbled murrelets.
Commissioners consented to contributing $12,000 to a special assessment totaling $60,000 from 15 Oregon counties that will go toward legal services. It will be voted on at the Association of Oregon Counties’ annual conference Nov. 19 to 21.
At issue is the fear that counties will lose revenue from timber if harvesting is severely restricted to better protect marbled murrulet nesting areas.
The board heard strong opinions for and against the contribution to the lawsuit at its Wednesday meeting, but decided that the earmarked money was ultimately not about the merits of the lawsuit, rather a way to engage in the discussion.
“Without a seat at the negotiating table, the county’s interests may not be expressed,” said Chairman Peter Huhtala.
The lawsuit was brought by Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity and Audubon Society of Portland, citing harmful management practices to the endangered marbled murrelet by the Oregon Department of Forestry in the Elliot, Tillamook and Clatsop state forests.
The Council of Forest Trust Land Counties (CFTLC) represents the 15 Oregon counties with state forestlands managed by the Oregon Department of Forestry. The council’s board chose to join the lawsuit as an intervenor in July 2012.
Commissioner Scott Lee, a member of the Forest Trust Land Advisory Committee, requested the item be put on the agenda Wednesday.
“One of the purposes of this meeting was to collect input from the community and input from my colleagues,” Lee said. “I would like to get some comments and feedback from this board to help guide my decision and this board’s decision.”
Before receiving public comments, the board heard from Tim Josi, Tillamook County commissioner and council chairman, who expressed the economic importance of state forestlands to Clatsop and Tillamook county constituents. Right now, litigation is primarily focused on the Elliot State Forest in Coos and Douglas counties.
“It’s just a matter of time before it starts impacting us in a very significant way,” Josi said. “It’s important that we’re there.”
Clatsop County received more than $11 million in timber revenue from board of forestry lands in 2012, according to a CFTLC annual report.
Residents and business owners spoke of the local jobs timber harvesting provides and the revenue that supports schools and public safety. Among supporters of the county contribution was Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin.
“The forests are really managed well and a lot of things are done appropriately nowadays,” he said. “The Forest Service and ODF have proven themselves to be good stewards.” Bergin said that his office is facing financial difficulties and a slow down in state timber harvests would worsen the situation.
Opponents of the county contribution asked that the board withhold the $12,000 as a objection to the litigation and expressed the need for better protection of the coastal old-growth trees where marbled murrelets have their nests.
“I think a contribution would implicitly endorse an unsustainable timber-centric forest management stance,” said Chris Smith of Forest Grove, a Washington County organizer with the North Coast State Forest Coalition. “I imagine there are other uses for $12,000.”
“I do not believe that having our county become financially involved in this particular lawsuit will contribute to the long-term health and balanced management of state forests,” said Jennifer Rasmussen of Astoria.
In other business:
• The board agreed to hold a public hearing Aug. 28 to decide on an appeal made by John Newton, who is opposing a Clatsop County Hearings Officer ruling on a property lot on Green Mountain Road in Astoria. A $2,536 appeal fee charged to Newton was waived by commissioners.
• Commissioners accepted a $9,467 grant from the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission aimed at studying the impacts of dredge disposal on crab grounds. The study is part of the development of the Mouth of the Columbia River Regional Sediment Management Plan.
• County Manager Scott Somers received a 5 percent pay increase by the board for exceeding expectations since being hired in July 2012 His salary will increase from $114,800 to $120,540. (Salary details were incorrect in some editions and in the initial online posting.)