County praised for opting out of lawsuit

Bob Van Dyk, Oregon and California policy director for the Wild Salmon Center, explained the history behind the lawsuit Linn County has filed against the Oregon State Department of Forestry during a “World of Haystack Rock” lecture series at the Cannon Beach Library.

‘Speak up and stay involved,’ lecturer urges audience

By Nancy McCarthy

For Cannon Beach Gazette

Clatsop County may have pulled out of a $1.4 billion lawsuit that calls for more harvesting of state forests, but residents can do even more to protect the state-owned acreage within the county’s boundaries.

Bob Van Dyk, Oregon and California policy director for the Wild Salmon Center, told those attending the “World of Haystack Rock” lecture series Feb. 8 that they need to “speak up and stay involved” if they want to preserve their forests.

“You already have 50,000 acres of Clatsop County state forest that can’t be clear cut (due to slopes and stream buffers),” Van Dyk said. “You’re in a desirable position to say ‘Let’s keep what we have.’

“Let the county commission know you agree and support a balanced approach (in harvesting state forests) and that they should go to Salem to lobby for a balanced approach. You should have direct contact with your elected officials,” he added.

During his presentation, entitled, “How to Protect 50,000 Acres in Clatsop County,” Van Dyk discussed the history behind the creation of Oregon’s state forests and the current lawsuit filed by Linn County.

The class action lawsuit is seeking $1.4 billion in damages for 15 counties. Linn County claims that the state has not maximized the logging that could be done in the state forests and that this has resulted in less income for counties to pay for public services.

Although Clatsop County was included as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, the county commission voted 3-2 last month to opt out of it.

Earlier in January, the Cannon Beach City Council voted 4-1 to send a resolution to the county commission urging the county to withdraw from the lawsuit.

Van Dyk took his audience back to 1920, when private companies owned the forests in Oregon. But following the Great Depression, the counties gained ownership of the properties when much of the land had been logged and timber companies couldn’t pay their taxes. The counties then turned the forests over to the state to manage in the “greatest permanent value” for all Oregonians.

Following several fires that devastated the forests from 1933 to 1951, the state Legislature authorized bonds to replant the forests.

The state Department of Forestry oversees more than 800,000 acres. Revenue from harvesting those forests — including portions of over a half-million acres in Clatsop and Tillamook counties — is given to the counties annually to finance schools and other public services. Clatsop County is the largest state forestry timber producer, Van Dyk said.

Harvest targets are set by management plans adopted by the state; the latest Northwest Oregon plan was adopted in 2010.

In addition to harvesting timber, the plan includes strategies for maintaining a diverse forest of tree species and growth levels, watersheds, recreational uses, wildlife habitat and carbon storage.

While the state’s management plan calls for “modified clearcutting” of 51 percent of the state’s forest over the years, Van Dyk said, timber companies financially supporting the Linn County lawsuit, including Hampton Tree Farm and Stimson Lumber Company, want at least 69 percent of the forests opened to “industrial clearcutting.”

Such clearcutting, Van Dyk said, would result in static forest plantations that would provide little wildlife habitat or recreational opportunities and could threaten watersheds that supply public drinking water.

He displayed a map showing where existing forests would be cut if the lawsuit is successful. Instead of large stands of trees in areas throughout Clatsop County, there were only narrow ribbons of trees along steep slopes and streams.

The lawsuit’s premise that the counties are losing revenue due to the lack of logging, is “false, straight-ahead false,” Van Dyk said.

From 1990 to 1998, before the state’s first comprehensive management plan was adopted, harvesting produced $8 million in revenue. But from 1999 to 2014, Oregon received $15 million, according to Van Dyk.

He praised the Clatsop County commission’s decision to opt out of the lawsuit.

“It’s saying that even though the county is the largest producer of timber, it still wants a balanced approach,” he added. “Clatsop County has a key voice, and it’s an important voice.”

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