OREGON - Fourteen Western Oregon counties are suing the state of Oregon for $1.4 billion, claiming the state is poorly running public forests and that it's costing them logging revenue.
With court proceedings set to begin Thursday, the counties - with backing from the timber industry and the notable Stimson Lumber - say the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) is failing to maximize timber harvests like they're required to by law. As a result, the counties say they're missing out on at least $35 million per year.
And as the ODF has been managing forests since 2001, that adds up to around $500 million. They're also seeking an additional $800 million in future damages.
The background is complicated. In a 1941 contract, the counties sold 600,000 acres of burned and unproductive forests to the state, who agreed to revitalize them, protect them from wildfires, and share two-thirds of their revenue with the counties the forests are located in. But in 2001, the ODF adopted new forest management rules - and efforts were made to maximize in areas like cleaner air and water, healty fish and wildlife, and scenery and recreation. In doing so, the counties claim the ODF neglected tree harvests, and violated the 80-year-old contract.
The case was born around four years ago and has been working through the legal system since. The trial should wrap up by the middle of November.
The state has been at odds with much of the timber industry as-of-late. Stimson Lumber, a forest products firm at the helm of the lawsuit, laid off 60 employees and shut down production at an Oregon mill in April, citing rising costs by state programs and policies. CEO Andrew Miller said the shutdown was forced "due to the rising cost of doing business in Oregon" and has elected to move production to Idaho and Montana instead.
Rob Freres, president of Oregon-based Freres Lumber, personally pledged $1 million in June to overturn business tax designed to provide an additional $1 billion for Oregon public schools every year. The tax is on businesses - imposing a 0.57 percent levy on sales by companies with more than $1 million a year in revenue.
In April, we wrote about how Oregon's Swanson Lumber said it was forced to shut down one of its sawmills because of mismanaged federally-run forests.
Oregon's Southwest region and in particular the small, rural town of Glendale are surrounded by forests owned by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. This is a region, according to Oregon's The Register-Guard and The News-Review, that's plagued with wildfires caused by the federal government's failure to properly manage the region's forests.
A recent proposal from the U.S. Forest Service to remove more than 360,000 acres of dead trees from the Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming may validate these claims. The Medicine Bow, which stretches across more than 2.2 million acres in Wyoming and Colorado, has been devastated by beetle infestation. Millions of dead trees now fill the landscape - fueling wildfires, interfering with wildlife, and endangering campers.
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