DeFazio, Wyden take wrong tack on timber

By Josh Laughlin in the Register Guard 
August 11, 2014
After four straight years as the runner-up, United Van Lines named Oregon as the state with the nation’s highest percentage of inbound moves in 2013. I’d bet a pitcher of Ninkasi the great migration hasn’t been for the clear-cuts that pock our mountainsides and pollute our streams, but rather for the unparalleled quality of life Oregon offers — including its awe-inspiring natural environment.
Why, then, are Rep. Peter DeFazio and Sen. Ron Wyden working to push clear-cutting legislation through Congress that threatens to further degrade our public forests and renowned waterways in Western Oregon? They say it is to boost county revenue. But the federal logging-to-fund-local-counties strategy was rightly decoupled nearly 15 years ago because the arrangement was bad for water quality and salmon, bad for terrestrial species teetering on the brink of extinction, and bad for the quality of life in Oregon.
And they say it is to increase jobs. Yet shiploads of raw logs (and jobs) being exported to Shanghai and Tokyo from Coos Bay and Astoria are not being taxed to help counties. And Oregon mills are continuing to automate so as to be able to consume more logs with fewer workers. The milling capacity of Oregon sawmills is 25 percent greater today than in 1995.
ly 1 million acres of our federal public forestlands just east and west of the Interstate 5 corridor to the point that the nation’s leading scientists at the American Fisheries Society and Society for Conservation Biology have written letters to the senator and expressed serious concern over the bill’s impacts.
Wyden’s legislation follows on the heels of DeFazio’s even more egregious logging plan, which would effectively privatize 1.5 million acres of our federal lands in Western Oregon to ensure that clear-cutting proceeds unabated into the future. The two policy makers are trying to marry their reckless schemes in order to move them through Congress.
Our public forestlands in Western Oregon can no longer serve as ATMs for struggling counties. It is these rainforests that largely define our state. They give us some of the best and most plentiful drinking water in the world, stabilize our climate by storing more carbon per acre than any other ecosystem on Earth, give us fresh air to breath, provide habitat for imperiled species, offer unparalleled recreation opportunities, and attract cutting-edge employers and skilled employees — all at no cost to us. They are the ecological and economic lifeblood of our region.
Rather than recycle failed strategies for county funding, a fresh approach is in order. Lawmakers in Salem ought to raise the timber tax on private industrial timberlands to be in line with California and Washington. It’s time for the Weyerhaeusers of the world to pay their fair share when doing business in Oregon.
A few counties in Western Oregon most affected by budgetary woes have the lowest property taxes in the state and some of the lowest in the nation. Yet county leaders clamor for increased sheriff patrols and road repair dollars when federal subsidies are cut. Property tax rates must be modernized in these counties if basic services are desired. The cut-over public forests of Western Oregon shouldn’t have to continue to shoulder the county funding burden.
At a time when our region’s salmon and wildlife are facing extinction, climate change is rearing its ugly head through erratic weather events, and public desire for forest and water protection is high, we should be doing all we can to secure the integrity of our watersheds, not stripping their protections. It is these forestlands that make Oregon so special, and I’m ready to double down on that pitcher that they are a great part of the reason we’re trending so high on United Van Lines’ data sheets.
Josh Laughlin is the campaign director of Eugene-based Cascadia Wildlands