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Sustainable timber harvest works in other states

At first glance, C.B. Thomas (guest opinion, April 27) offers an interesting case on the relationship between timber production and revenues for O&C counties. But the historic connection between counties and timber revenues from nearby public forests isn't unique to Western Oregon.

When resources are sustainably managed to meet demand, government agencies have proved themselves capable of consistently generating revenues for public education, law enforcement, roads and other essential services. However, as we've seen after 20 years of the Northwest Forest Plan, federal agencies can't properly manage lands or produce revenues when they're operating against conflicting regulations and endless lawsuits.

Western Oregon's O&C timber lands were established under a federal mandate of sustained-yield timber production under the O&C Act. These lands once provided a reliable source of revenue while supporting local economies. Then timber harvests declined over 90 percent amid the NWFP's failure to balance economic and conservation goals.

Not only did this cost counties a reliable source of revenue, it led to the closure of dozens of mills and the loss of thousands of jobs. Congress approved the Secure Rural Schools program to replace lost timber receipts and give counties time to diversify their economies, yet payments have dwindled and economic diversification is difficult when the federal government owns as much as 70 percent of the land base in O&C counties.

Raising taxes on businesses and impoverished communities with real unemployment rates of over 20 percent isn't the right solution for Western Oregon. To resolve this crisis, the federal government should either implement the O&C Act or find a new solution that provides sufficient timber volume, stable county revenues and legal certainty from relentless activist lawsuits and obstruction. We only need to look elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest to see the economic and environmental benefits when agencies operate under a clear mandate.

Washington State's Department of Natural Resources manages 2.1 million acres of trust timberlands to benefit public services, generating over $360 million in the 2013-15 biennium for public schools and other programs. The Idaho Department of Lands actively manages a million forested acres, and in 2013 generated over 61,000 truckloads of forest products and nearly $50 million for public schools and other beneficiaries. Montana's Forest Management Bureau actively manages 780,000 acres of forested timberlands, selling 70.3 million board feet last year and generating over $10 million in revenue.

These agencies actively manage their public lands, not only for sustainable timber production, but for wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities as well. Even as log prices fluctuate, the agencies consistently produce revenues under clear mandates and strong environmental protection laws. Given the ability to actively manage their forests, state trust lands are arguably healthier, more productive and more reliable as a source of support for public services. The lands also support thousands of family-wage jobs, which also helps generate multiple streams of tax revenue to support governments and schools at all levels.

Oregon's congressional delegation is considering solutions to restore active management and create jobs for rural communities. The bipartisan O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act, sponsored by Reps. Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden, is the most effective solution to advance through Congress. Passed by the U.S. House last September, the bill places a portion of O&C lands into a state-managed trust, like other northwestern states, for sustainable timber production. By offering a high degree of legal certainty, the Governor's O&C Task Force found, it would generate over $100 million per year for counties.

After declaring the bipartisan House O&C plan dead in the Senate, Sen. Ron Wyden offered his own O&C plan that provides less timber volume, little legal certainty and virtually no revenue for counties. However, Sen. Wyden has pledged to work with our House members to achieve a compromise that increases federal timber harvests and helps place communities on a firmer path toward self-sufficiency. We should hope they are successful in passing a bill through Congress this year.

Counties and rural Oregonians want meaningful reforms that restore active management. In addition to generating revenues, O&C reforms will improve forest health while creating new jobs by providing a reliable source of timber for Oregon mills. After years of budget shortfalls, chronic unemployment and unhealthy forests, communities simply want to return to the approach that served them well and continues to benefit our neighboring states.

Sue Kupillas is a former Jackson County commissioner and chairwoman of the Natural Resource Team of The Chamber of Medford/Jackson County.