We have all sat in restaurants where a pair of loud and bratty kids enabled by indulgent parents have ruined our well-earned, infrequent and often expensive evenings. The reasons for these unfortunate scenes could be uneaten broccoli or uncleaned rooms standing in the way of ice cream or some other sugary dessert these pint-sized terrorist have come to expect. We all feel for those parents and are sympathetic, but at some point we all wish they would just figure out who the parents are and who the kids are and stop annoying the crap out of the rest of us.
I think about this situation because it is so much like the current O&C debate that it is scary. Let me introduce the players. Mom is of course played by the US House of Representatives and Dad by the US Senate. The two whining, breath-holding and table-kicking kids are played ably by the O&C counties and the timber industry. We in Oregon are the ones sitting at the tables closest to the fray with the rest of the nation placed at the surrounding tables. And the broccoli in this drama is taxation with the O&C timber resources being the ice cream and private industrial timberlands being the un-cleaned bedrooms in question. You with me so far?
Broccoli and Taxes
''I do not like broccoli,'' the President said, responding to queries about a broccoli ban he has imposed aboard Air Force One, first reported this week in U.S. News and World Report. ''And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States, and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli!'' New York Times March 23, 1990
To be clear, I like broccoli myself but my selection of it here in this role likely springs in part from the first President Bush and his two memorable dislikes: broccoli and taxes. And “no new taxes” so easily translates into “no new broccoli.”
O&C Counties and Taxes
So let’s look at our children in the story and their relationship to broccoli. The first—the O&C counties—are a lot like the child that has never eaten broccoli but “knows” that it is nasty. The Depression-era 1937 O&C Act allowed these coastal Oregon counties to insulate themselves from eating broccoli (i.e., paying fair taxes) and during the process accumulate populations that are generally not all that fond of broccoli either. When you look at the above graph, the O&C counties live on the far right hand tail and the rest of the Oregonians live towards the left paying much higher rates.
The Timber Industry and Taxes
In my scenario the timber industry is a little bit more like Bush senior in that they once paid fair and reasonable taxes on their private timber lands and harvests and now they do not. Then they persuaded state law makers that they should not eat broccoli too. Big timber also convinced policy makers that eating ice cream that was fed to them at great cost by parents who seemed not all that concerned that they ate it messily was the way to go. This timber and timber land taxation scenario is complicated and nuanced, but at the end of the day the taxes do not even pay for the services that are received by the timber industry and when looked at in a full-cost accounting fashion where lost ecological services and societal impacts are considered the gap between what they do pay and should pay becomes monumental. For more detailed assessment please see a report by Andy Kerr.
The Messy Room
The mess and the messy room in all of this are the impacts to water quality, salmon populations and quality of life wrought by mismanaged federal forest assets and the minimal standards enforced by the state of Oregon on private timberlands where pesticides are used, waterways compromised, and deer, elk and bears are treated as unwelcome pests. It is important to note that this latter management regime is the one that the US House bill wants to bring an additional 1.5 million acres of federal forests in coastal Oregon.
The Need for Responsible Congressional Parenting
We are at that time when the good of the whole room (those in Oregon and other states) and our collective dining experience demands that we get up, walk across the room and tell both parents—the US House and US Senate—to think about everyone’s interests and get their bratty children to eat their broccoli and clean up their rooms prior to the rest of us ponying up to buy them some more ice cream in the form of increased timber harvests on the O&C Lands.
Better still, why not act as prudent, even responsible, "parents" and realize that this last century was the "forestry experiment" century where we sacrificed our salmon fisheries, water quality and significant federal resources and taxpayer monies and have little to show for it save a fractured landscape, lost salmon populations and, for some of us, pesticide residue in our urine. Why not make this next century the century of restoring what we damaged in the last? Why not embrace the lessons we are learning with the Elwha River salmon runs and understand that these forests may be better for producing salmon, clean water, carbon sequestration and recreational opportunities than this continued cycle of below cost timber sales, avoided taxes and un-neighborly behavior?
More reading (and listening) on O&C Lands: