Writings and observations

County fallout

The passage of the $700 billion mega-bailout bill has impact all over the country (not to mention around the world), of course, but the 400 or so pages of attached goodies include at least one item of notably special interest to the Northwest – inclusion of extension the county timber payments, something Northwest legislators have been trying and failing all year to get included.

High irony: The inclusion of the provision in the bailout bill seems to have been most principally the doing of a senator who voted against the overall bill – Oregon Senator Ron Wyden: “I promised the people of Oregon that I would attach it to every single bill that was moving through the senate. I made it clear that I couldn’t make any commitments to vote on the overall bailout bill.”

From the Association of Oregon Counties:

The Governor’s Task Force on Federal Forest Payments and County Services is about to release a final report containing more than 50 recommendations for the Legislature to consider. Those recommendations offer the opportunity for the Legislature to craft administrative and statutory changes to give counties more flexibility in providing effective and efficient services to Oregonians.

The next big challenge for Oregon counties is to work toward making our federal forests healthy. Federal forest payments were originally enacted to help counties with the loss of revenue from declining timber harvests. The lack of responsible forest management has left federal forest lands in a weakened and generally unhealthy state. The risk of wildland fire has increased dramatically. It is time to turn our attention to the health of our federal forest lands – forest lands that can provide healthy local economies, biofuels, productive watersheds and much more.

Now that the President has signed the Emergency Stabilization Act, government agencies will begin the process of determining the amount of payments counties will receive and when those payments will be sent out. AOC will be working closely with the National Association of Counties and the federal agencies in the process. At this point, we are certain that Oregon counties will continue to receive federal forest payments for another four years, but those payments will be decreased by about 10 percent a year.

Of all places around the country, southwest Oregon probably has been the most severely hit by the abrupt cancellation of the timber payments. The county association seems, in its initial statements at least, to take a pragmatic view, that the new extension may be the last, that it provides a time to phase out rather than simply a continuation. From that perspective, as the association indicates, the work on replacing the money is only beginning.

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