Tag Archives: John Kitzhaber

Ore Timber groups on Senate payment plan

Ore Timber groups on Senate payment plan

March 21, 2013

Oregon Timber Industry Comments on Senate County Payments Hearing and Outlines Real Solutions

By American Forest Research Council

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is holding a hearing in Washington, DC today entitled “Keeping the Commitment to Rural Communities” to review the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) and Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) county payment programs.

Tom Partin, President of the American Forest Resource Council (AFRC), is urging Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, to take action on meaningful solutions to restore active, sustainable forest management to Oregon’s Forest Service and BLM O&C forests.  The data suggests that relatively modest timber harvest levels could generate county payments significantly higher than those expected from SRS while also providing thousands of new jobs in rural Oregon.

“If the federal government is truly interested in honoring the nation’s commitment to Oregon’s rural, forested communities it will promote real solutions to restore the health of our forests and the vitality of rural communities through balanced, sustainable management of our federal forests,” said Partin.  “Merely doling out dwindling Secure Rural School payments clearly falls short of meeting the needs of local governments and does nothing to generate the private sector employment these communities so desperately need.”

Beginning with “Spotted Owl Guarantee Payments” in the early 1990’s and continuing through today with SRS payments, Pacific Northwest counties have received billions in often deficit spending subsidies from Washington, DC when all they’ve asked for is the sustainable management of the federal forests in their backyards.  Secure Rural Schools payments have declined significantly in recent years and many Oregon counties receive less than half of what they received as recently as 2008.  Rural Oregon now faces chronic unemployment, record food stamp use and insecurity from an underfunded law enforcement and criminal justice system.

Last month, Oregon Congressmen Peter DeFazio (D), Greg Walden (R) and Kurt Schrader (D) wrote Chairman Wyden asking that he convene a hearing to explore lasting solutions for Oregon’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Oregon & California Grant Lands forests, including their O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act.  The bipartisan House proposal would permanently protect all of the old growth on BLM lands while managing the remainder of the land on a sustained yield basis to provide over 500 million board feet of timber, over 5,000 jobs and $165 million to the counties every year into the future.  The harvest level called for under their proposal represents less than half of what these forests grow each year.  Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has also called upon the entire Oregon Congressional Delegation to promote this type of meaningful solution, but thus far Chairman Wyden has largely avoided addressing the issue.

“We hope Chairman Wyden will join his bipartisan House colleagues to develop real, balanced solutions for Oregon’s O&C counties,” continued Partin.  “Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has also called for federal legislation providing lasting certainty for Oregon’s O&C counties, but if today’s hearing is any indication it appears that the Senate is inclined the kick the can down the road yet again.”

Meanwhile, AFRC has provided an outline of the modest harvest levels that would be required to generate county timber payments nearly double of those expected this year from Forest Service lands if Congress merely increased revenue sharing from 25% to 50% and reformed how a small portion of these lands are managed.  In addition to providing nearly double the revenue to local county governments this approach would generate tens of thousands of new jobs across Oregon’s hardest hit communities and provide additional receipts to the federal Treasury.

“The facts clearly show that you can provide significant revenue to local counties and schools as well as jobs in rural communities through the sustainable management of our federal forests, concluded Partin.  “In most cases the harvest volumes are less than the volume of timber that dies each year, a small portion of the annual growth and a minor fraction of the standing volume on our federal forests.”

The American Forest Resource Council represents forest product manufacturers and landowners throughout the west and is based in Portland, Oregon.  www.amforest.org

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Governor wants to help Ore. timber industry by sharing wildfire costs with industry, state

Governor wants to help Ore. timber industry by sharing wildfire costs with industry, state

By JEFF BARNARD  AP Environmental Writer

January 19, 2013

GRANTS PASS, Oregon — For years, Oregon’s major timberland owners have felt they were paying too much of the cost of fighting wildfires, especially in years when blazes stayed relatively small.

A bill in Gov. John Kitzhaber’s budget would allocate $3.6 million over the next two years to change the payment formula, so the state picks up a bigger share of the costs in years when fires don’t rage out of control. The proposal also would pay up to $6 million to keep two air tankers on call and other resources to keep minor wildfires from getting big and expensive.

“Landowners since 1993 have paid 82 percent of the cost” of putting out large fires, said Kristin McNitt, executive director of the Oregon Forest Industry Council, which represents the timber industry. “And it’s killing us.”

The governor also wants to use $4 million in lottery-backed bonds to help the U.S. Forest Service turn out more timber sales from federal lands in the dry forests east of the Cascades.

Natural Resources adviser Richard Whitman said the governor sees the two proposals as vital to maintaining the struggling timber industry in central and eastern Oregon, both as a source of jobs and as a necessary part of the infrastructure for logging that will improve forest health and reduce wildfire danger.

The region almost lost one of the half-dozen surviving mills last year, for lack of timber from national forests, Whitman said.

“If there is any further decline, it will be very hard to get back,” he said.

A wildfire policy watchdog group, however, sees the funding change as a “scam” on taxpayers that benefits the timber industry — but not the public.

Andy Stahl, director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics said any money spent on air tankers and helicopters is a waste, because there is no data to show that they are effective tools for keeping fires from getting out of control.

“At a time when we are struggling to fund schools and fund health care, why we would want to divert those dollars to some of Oregon’s largest corporations is a bit mystifying,” said Stahl. “Historic data shows no correlation between the amount of retardant dumped on a (forest) and the success rate of keeping fires small.”

The timber industry has been trying for years to change the wildfire funding formula, and last year the state Board of Forestry appointed a committee representing forest landowners, government agencies and the governor’s office, which came up with the Wildfire Protection Act.

Under the current funding formula, private landowners, whether large timber companies or homeowners with a few acres of trees, pay a tax to cover the costs of the Oregon Department of Forestry’s firefighting efforts. The tax ranges from 80 cents per acre on the wetter west side of the state, to $1.70 on the drier east side.

The first $10 million of the cost of fighting large fires is covered by private landowners. The next $15 million comes from the state general fund. After that, a special insurance policy kicks in $25 million up to a total of $50 million. In recent years, the cost of fighting large fires has averaged $8 million, so landowners have covered it alone.

The bill calls for sharing the costs evenly from the start, up to a total of $20 million. The amount the state pays would increase gradually over six years, so that at the end the cost would be split 50-50, up to $20 million. Despite the lower deductible, the cost of the insurance policy would remain at $1 million, due to increased firefighting resources, said Travis Medema, deputy chief of fire protection for the Oregon Department of Forestry.

The idea behind the state taking a greater share is that the public benefits from keeping forests green, so they provide recreation, fish and wildlife habitat, and clean water, said Whitman, of the Natural Resources Department.

As for the bottleneck in turning out more timber from national forests in eastern and central Oregon, Whitman said the problem has been a lack of funding for the Forest Service.

Sales developed collaboratively by groups that include representatives of the timber industry and conservation groups typically are not held up by court challenge. The $4 million would go to planning and laying out timber sales.

“We put money into economic development projects all the time,” Whitman said. “In terms of bang for the buck for job creation” and helping mills and logging outfits stay in business, “it looks like a pretty good investment.”

The state is still in negotiations with the Forest Service, but wants to receive payment from the sale of timber in return for the investment in preparing sales, Whitman said.

Stahl said a similar arrangement had been worked out in Arizona to promote thinning to reduce fire danger. He said it was ironic for the state to pay the federal government to log, when federal payments to timber counties to make up for reduced logging revenues have expired.

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