Clatsop County commissioners withdrew last week from a committee that advises the state on behalf of forestland trust counties. They just didn’t know it at the time.
In a 4-1 vote, commissioners decided to no longer pay $11,800 in annual membership dues to the Council of Forest Trust Land Counties, a subcommittee of the Association of Oregon Counties comprised of commissioners from areas with state forestlands.
State law, however, mandates that the Forest Trust Land Advisory Committee, which advises the state on forestland issues, be composed of the council’s board of directors.
The state Department of Forestry informed the county the day after the vote about the law, County Manager Cameron Moore said. County Counsel Heather Reynolds drafted a memo to commissioners clarifying the issue.
“We became aware of the language of that Thursday, but obviously the decision came Wednesday night,” Moore said. “I think commissioners are now aware of that and they’ll have to decide on what they have to do next.”
Scott Lee, the board’s chairman, said he was unsure last week if the commission’s decision would impact the county’s standing on the advisory committee. But he is sticking by the move.
“To me, it doesn’t matter. They’re both the same,” Lee said of the council and the committee. “They’re basically just a rubber-stamp committee.”
The vote stemmed from the county’s decision last year to withdraw from a $1.4 billion timber lawsuit led by Linn County that alleges breach of contract by the state on timber harvests. Clatsop County was the only one of 15 counties in the class action to leave the lawsuit.
John DiLorenzo, the attorney for the county plaintiffs, recently instructed members of the council not to speak with the Board of Forestry about any policy matters that may be used as evidence in the lawsuit.
“We’re concerned anything we say can and will be used against us when we got to trial,” said Tillamook County Commissioner Tim Josi, the council’s chairman, who is also running for state House.
Clatsop County, however, can still speak to the board without those legal concerns.
“Why would we spend money on a board that’s not really functioning and basically doesn’t promote the values of Clatsop County?” Lee said. “I think this sends a good message that Clatsop County is going in a different direction from the Linn County lawsuit and the folks that signed up for it.”
The council has diverted from county policy by promoting timber revenue rather than recreational use and habitat preservation, Commissioner Kathleen Sullivan argued.
“We’d be fools to say that’s not important,” Sullivan said of timber revenue. “We all have to work together, but sometimes you have to make a point.”
Commissioner Lianne Thompson, who voted against leaving the lawsuit, was the sole “no” vote last week.
“If we listen to each other, if we have those welcoming conversations, we’ll be able to find a common ground,” Thompson said before the vote. “There’s an abyss between the points of view. We can be leaders for that.”
Tillamook County Commissioner David Yamamoto and Warrenton Mayor Henry Balensifer urged commissioners to at least delay any decision. “I know there are differences among the members and I certainly understand that,” said Yamamoto, a member of the council. “You have to be at the table to express your views and to make sure that everyone understands your views.”
At the end of the 90-day notice the county has handed to the council, commissioners will no longer have a say in official recommendations to the Board of Forestry. They can, however, still attend meetings and provide public comment to the remaining commissioners from other counties.
Will that have a major impact on policy recommendations sometime in the future?
“I don’t know that we actually know yet,” Moore said.