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O&C counties vindicated in lawsuit

On Nov. 25, Judge Richard Leon ruled in favor of the Association of O&C Counties in a lawsuit brought by the association challenging the federal management plan applicable to O&C lands. The O&C lands are 2.1 million acres that have a unique history and are spread in a checkerboard pattern in 18 counties in Western Oregon. The lands are required to be managed by the BLM under the O&C Act, a federal statute. Judge Leon found the BLM’s management plan failed to comply with the O&C Act’s requirements.

For commissioners representing O&C counties, Judge Richard Leon’s decision regarding the meaning and Congressional intent of the 1937 O&C Act was a major victory. His decision confirmed that the O&C Act means what it says; all O&C lands classified as timber land shall be managed for the production of timber under the principle of sustained yield, which means harvest levels can never exceed the annual growth of the forest. Judge Leon’s decision helps clarify for the public, the BLM, county commissioners and the Oregon Congressional delegation the legal requirements that are applicable to the management of the O&C lands. While Judge Leon’s decision is subject to appeal, it is strengthened by prior federal court rulings.

A time frame for implementing new management priorities consistent with the court’s ruling is yet to be determined. However, when those new priorities are in place in the form of a new management plan, the impacts for O&C counties and adjacent timber-dependent communities could be significant.

A predictable, sustainable supply of timber will mean more family-wage jobs. A predictable supply of timber will also encourage more development and use of engineered wood products such as laminated veneer lumber and cross-laminated lumber. Timber receipts for the O&C counties will be more predictable, allowing an increased level of stability in the counties’ budgeting processes.

In addition to these benefits, the implementation of this decision will lead to a closer, more positive relationship between the BLM and the Association of O&C Counties. Cooperation and communication regarding future management decisions, projects, timber sales and other activity on the O&C lands will increase to the benefit of all concerned.

Some facts are often over overlooked in discussions about management of the O&C lands. The BLM does not engage in widespread clearcutting and does not employ the industrial forest management model used by the timber industry. The BLM is required to take into account all federal rules and regulations including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and all other environmental requirements.

Implementation of Judge Leon’s decision will expand the management land base, resulting in a lighter touch over a broader landscape. This shift in policy, with the requirement of sustained-yield management, will ensure the public’s access to the O&C lands for hunting, hiking, camping and other recreational activities, protection of fish and wildlife, and the production of a predictable volume of timber. The Association of O&C Counties has long held that all of these outcomes should be achieved simultaneously. Judge Leon’s decision confirms that position.

Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman is president of the Association of O&C Counties. Coos County Commissioner Bob Main is AOCC vice president. Polk County Commissioner Craig Pope is AOCC secretary/treasurer.

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