Recently, Linn County served notice of its intention to file a class action lawsuit against the state of Oregon and the Department of Forestry to seek $1.435 billion or more in damages on behalf of the “Forest Trust Lands Counties” and “all other government entities (i.e. taxing districts) that receive timber revenue from these lands.” The suit also seeks “relief to alter the state’s current management practices to ensure to the Forest Trust Land Counties and other class members the appropriate level of future timber revenues.”
Before Clatsop County and its local taxing districts decide to participate in this lawsuit, they have a duty to thoroughly understand the potential longstanding and serious consequences of this action. When the counties turned over their burned and logged-over land to the state over 70 years ago, it became public state land to be restored and by law provide a steady stream of timber revenue to the Forest Trust Counties and their respective taxing districts. The law also requires that these state forests be managed to produce a sustainable flow of social and environmental benefits for the public.
Over the years, these forests have been restored, miles of logging roads and trails have been built or improved and many camp sites opened. As the forests have matured, many millions of dollars in harvest revenue have been returned — two thirds of this revenue to the counties and local taxing districts, and one third to the department for management of this land.
Essentially, this lawsuit will require the department to generate harvest revenue using private, commercial logging standards. The key question the county and taxing districts must decide: Do they want to cannibalize our state forests, damage the land and aquatic environment, diminish our aesthetic and recreational enjoyment of this land, and expose our people to more toxic spraying in the interest of gaining more tax revenue? Since commercial standards have shorter rotation periods and more frequent clear cutting, do they also want to contribute to global warming and increase our forest’s risk of catastrophic fires?
They should also be aware that Trust Lands officials have been very open in stating that they want to target Clatsop County’s big, old trees (i.e. 70-90 years old) first, less they become home to any endangered species. Once these trees are gone, it will take more than 100 years before our forest grows back to a level even close to where it is today. Seventy plus years of cooperative effort between the counties and the department has already been disrupted, as both sides have been instructed by their lawyers to have no further contact with the other while this case is pending.
Finally, as the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners chairman was quoted as saying in a recent editorial on this subject, he is concerned that the lawsuit could tie up the county’s revenue stream and bring lawsuits from environmental groups, too. What sort of hardship and turmoil would it create if a prolonged legal battle ensued?
I strongly urge the Board of Commissioners and officials in the taxing districts not to participate in this foolhardy and potentially devastating lawsuit, and support a more balanced approach to managing this county’s state forest.