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Back to the drawing board for O&C Lands

Loggers, conservationists fail to find common ground on contested timberland


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: KATIE WILSON - Spotlight Photo: Katie WilsonColumbia County Commissioner Tony Hyde said the process leading up to the release of last week’s O&C Lands Report cleared a new path for talks on the potential harvest or sale of contested federal timberland, despite lingering divides between conservationists and timber industry proponents.

“I think the process was very significant in that it brought all of the stakeholders to the table to consider options that were something other than the status quo,” Hyde said.

Hyde, a former logger, serves on the panel that met over a three-month period between October and January in an effort to map out the O&C Lands saga and, optimistically, arrive at recommendations for Gov. Kitzhaber.

Next steps for the panel are unclear, and Hyde said he is traveling to Washington, D.C. within the next two weeks, a visit that will include discussions on the O&C Lands.

The panel included conservationists, timber industry advocates and representatives from O&C Counties — of which Columbia County is one, with 11,076 acres associated with 1937’s federal O&C Act.

Only one other O&C County — Lincoln — hosts fewer O&C acreage than Columbia. Douglas has the most at 706, 321 acres.

Counties historically had received revenue based on timber sales or government payments in lieu of their ability to receive property taxes on the vast federal properties.

Hyde said the panel disagreed on several facets, including conservationists’ opposition to placing a portion of the land into trust — one option currently proposed in Congressional legislation introduced by Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio in February 2012 — and county government officials who disputed the conservationists’ proposals to sell a portion of the land.

“We agreed to disagree,” Hyde said. “There are some who are touting that as a failure, but I don’t believe that’s true.”

Since the 1990s Oregon’s O&C Lands, which are composed of 2.6 million acres, have been subject to the Northwest Forest Plan, though legal disputes have considerably scaled back logging on those lands. Without an agreed-upon harvest plan, the affected 18 O&C Counties, all in Oregon, don’t receive a percentage of harvest receipts as spelled out in historical legislation.

A convoluted history of management authority on the O&C Lands, plus the fact the lands are home to endangered wildlife protected under the Endangered Species Act, such as the endangered Northern Spotted Owl, have gridlocked a revised forest plan. In 2008, a plan called the Western Oregon Plan Revision was briefly advanced, though in 2012 the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which has authority over O&C Lands, withdrew the plan. Legal challenges based on changes in how the plan defined riparian zones excluded from logging brought it to a quick end.

The O&C Lands Report released Feb. 6 outlines an expansive and complex history tied to O&C Lands, which are properties that checker Western Oregon’s landscape.

To read the entire O&C Lands Report online, visit www.oregon.gov/gov/GNRO/docs/OCLandsReport.pdf