On the Linn County Lawsuit

You know when you drive to the coast, like out to Cannon Beach or Tillamook, and you pass by those clear-cuts? There’s a thin layer of trees in front of them—a disguise of sorts—but if you look past them, through those dark branches, you can see whole fields of dry, broken, dirt, painfully bright and empty in the scattered sunlight. This is instantly and intrinsically a sad thing to see. I always wonder what it looked like before. What was it like, back when the fir trees rose toward the sky? I wished I could gaze up into the plush arms of those hemlock and spruce as they braided the sunlight between each frond. And where were the deer, and the owls, and all the others who were displaced?

DBH Measuring

Measuring old trees in the Clatsop State Forest – photo by Trygve Steen

Logging—especially in its most intense, disruptive form—contributes to climate change, causes erosion, destroys habitat, dirties water sources, and detracts from the aesthetic and recreational value of our forests. Unfortunately, there are those who nonetheless want more—more timber harvesting, more clear-cutting, more revenue. And I’m not just talking about logging companies; one Oregon county is taking legal action to increase logging on state forests.

On January 13th, Linn County threatened to sue the State of Oregon for 1.4 billion dollars. Linn County believes that the State isn’t doing enough logging in our State Forests. You see, back in the 1930’s, timber companies logged and logged until, in certain places, there wasn’t anything left to log. The companies cut bait and the lands went back to the counties in which they were located. These counties—including Linn County—got tired of paying taxes on these profitless lands, so, through a series of statutes in the 1930’s and 1940’s, they sold them to the State of Oregon.

Since then they’ve been reseeded and restored. As State Forests, they’re managed under a multi-use philosophy of watershed protection, recreation, and sustainable timber production. The State still shares the majority of its logging revenue with those original counties, while using the rest of the money for management expenses.

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Clearcut with aerial pesticide application – photo by Francis Eatherington

But Linn County wants more. They believe that the State should be logging as much as possible to create the highest revenue possible. Under a 1941 Act, the Board of Forestry is required to manage State Forests to “secure the greatest permanent value to the state”. Linn County takes this to mean the greatest monetary value to the state—or, more accurately, to the counties—and they don’t think the State is doing enough.

The State’s sustainable multi-value approach takes habitat, water health, and recreation into consideration as much as logging. What, after all, secures a more permanent value? Logging profits that will quickly be spent, our forests lost to us for a hundred years or more? Or healthy forests that for the foreseeable years will provide a broad set of benefits to humans and animals, along with an ongoing timber harvest? The latter option could contribute recreation and conservation jobs that would last much longer than the smattering of logging jobs that would end when the forests were logged over.

There are no previous court cases or statutes that support Linn County’s lawsuit. Previous court cases have established only that the State must pay some of its forest revenues to the counties. They don’t specify the rate at which the logging has to take place, or even whether the money has to come specifically from logging.  The State could potentially create revenue through recreational purposes, as long as they give the counties their share.

Our State Forests are publicly owned and provide so many benefits besides logging money. Talk to your local representative today and urge them to put a stop to this lawsuit, or tell Governor Brown to stand up for our state forests and the Greatest Permanent Value for all Oregonians! There is so much more to our forests than money and the maximization of profit. Steady sunlight through the trees. Deer tracks in the leaf-lined mud. The first, purple salmonberry in the late spring. The forest is so much more than money—it’s alive.

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