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Enviros and no-tax crowd should share blame

I grew up in Roseburg, the heart of Oregon’s once-dominant timber industry. At that time, 1952-1960, there were several major timber mills in Roseburg plus hundreds of so-called gypo loggers, guys who had a truck, a chain saw and a small mill on their land.

Now, thanks largely to the power of the “enviros” ability to lock up federal timber land via lawsuits, Roseburg, once the self-proclaimed Timber Capital of the USA, has one major timber company, Roseburg Lumber Company, and not much else. 

Since the early 1980s the economy of Roseburg and much of southern Oregon has changed dramatically with the downsizing of the timber industry and the influx of many refugees tired of the smog and density of California but wanting to live in a climate much like the Bay Area. (Southern Oregon is not afflicted with the metro area’s six-month rainy season.)  But with these demographic changes has come a new politics: Just say “no” to taxes. 

When timber was king, Douglas County had the best road and park system in Oregon. We also had a Taj Mahal county building, jail and library. 

Where did the money come from to bankroll such splendid infrastructure? Not from the local taxpayers. Voting “no” on taxes was the norm, whether for local schools, cities or a county levy. We had such good local programs because of federal payment in lieu of taxes, which flowed to the timber counties thanks to the fact a majority of the land was owned by the feds, and therefore off the local tax rolls. 

If one looks at a map of Douglas County and her other counterparts from Eugene to Ashland and Reedsport to Brookings, the map makes the point obvious — most of the timber land is owned by the U.S. Forest Service on the west side of the Cascades and the Bureau of Land Management on the east side. So in lieu of local property taxes the Feds poured millions each year into local communities. 

The problem is that most members of Congress resent tax money from their states going to Oregon to support people they don’t even know.

So the pipeline of federal timber payments has gotten smaller and smaller, almost to the point of disappearing. In Lane County, the most liberal bastion of the “other” Oregon, this has caused hundreds of accused felons to be released back onto the streets. This is what happens when money dries up. (Warning: don’t walk around at night in Eugene.)

But let’s go back to the beginning. Voters in the “other” Oregon have voted “no” on local property taxes before and after timber was dethroned as king. New immigrants from California have intensified this anti-tax mindset.

Yet, the citizenry of the “other” Oregon expects the dole from timber to remain forever even though no timber is being harvested from federal lands anymore thanks to the “enviros.”  So who’s to blame? The “no tax” locals and the “enviros” who have locked up federal land from harvests. 

The lesson? Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it. The “no tax” crowd is finding out there is a price to be paid for wanting low or no taxes. The “enviros,” meanwhile live mostly in urban Oregon and have the luxury of being “green” while not paying the price of their choices unless they visit the “other” Oregon.  Well that’s not really true because without those federal timber payments, we all have to dig deeper into our wallets to help the “other” Oregon. 

Those who live in the “other” Oregon need to wise up and start taking responsibility for your communities by paying your fair share in local taxes. For the rest of us who live in the metro area, wake up to the fact that Oregon needs a vibrant timber economy in the “other” Oregon if we are to be economically viable or sustainable. 

That doesn’t mean clear-cutting the North Umpqua Forest. It means harvesting timber on federal lands by balancing economic and environmental objectives. 

For over three decades we have seen how zero-sum politics works in the “other” Oregon. It locks up timber harvests, destroys jobs, impoverishes people and now has counties on the verge of bankruptcy.

We don’t have to choose between spotted owls and timber jobs.  That’s a false choice. What has got to stop is the poisonous politics of the “no tax” crowd and the “tree huggers” who have sold Oregon down the river.

Russ Dondero is Professor Emeritus,

Department of Politics and Government, Pacific University. Read his blogs at

russdondero.squarespace.com.




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