Association of Oregon and California Counties Land Grabs
In September 2010, AOCC offered up the proposal to sell approximately one half of the BLM lands in western Oregon, to capitalize an account to yield $110 million annually, so they may be supported in the manner to which they have become accustomed. While this public land sell-off proposal has been superseded by a new public land sell-out proposal, the background materials are useful in understanding intent.
On August 22, 2011, the Association of Oregon Counties proposed an “O&C Lands Conservation and Management Trust” to Oregon’s US Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Representatives Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader and Governor John Kitzhaber. Here are the supporting materials:
• Outline of Key Elements; and
Conservationist Critique of 2011 AOCC "Trust" Proposal
Larch has prepared a critique that finds that the trust proposal would:
1. Result in the Loss of Over 4,000 Square Miles of Federal Public Forestlands
2. Mandate Unsustainable Logging Levels
3. Mandate Excessive Funding Levels
4. Violate the Public Trust
5. Harm Many Other Natural Resources
6. Liquidate Assets to Pay Annual Operating Costs
7. Destroy Northwest Forest Plan
8. Transfer Conservation Obligations to State and Private Timberlands
9. Result in Dirtier Drinking Water
Additional concerns include:
A. Log Price Assumptions Optimistic—If Not Delusional
B. Cooking the Board Feet Calculations
C. Raiding the National Forest System
D. Violating the National Wilderness Preservation System and National Wild and Scenic Rivers System
E. Taking Credit for Excluding Lands From the Trust That Don’t Exist
F. Lawyers Full-Employment Act
G. Pseudo Conservation
H. Tree Farms, Not Forests
I. Cheap Talk About Protecting Imperiled Species
J. Sham Governance
K. Counting Liabilities as Assets
18 Oregon Counties (all but Clatsop west of the Cascade Crest and Klamath County) contain federal public lands that are commonly known as "O&C" lands. The Oregon and California Railroad was griven a huge grant of land from the federal public domain in 1866 for building a railroad from Portland to the California border. The railroad (later the Southern Pacific) violated the terms of the grant and in 1916 Congress took back the land.
These two plus million acres of now again federal public forestlands and are managed by the Bureau of Land Management. See Transferring Western Oregon Bureau of Land Management Forests to the National Forest System (Larch Company Occasional Paper #2) for the low-down on these lands and what is best done with them.
From 1916 to 1937, these lands, which had been in private ownerhship, paid no taxes to the counties in which they were in. In 1937, Congress passed the O&C Lands Act, which provided that, among other things, that the lands
shall be managed... for permanent forest production, the tımber thereon shall be sold, cut, and removed in conformity with the prinicipal [sic] of sustained yield for the purpose of provıdmg a permanent source of tímber supply, protecting watersheds, regulatıng stream flow, and contributing to the economic stability of local communities and industries, and providing recreational facilties.
To reimburse the counties for property tax receipts they did not receive between 1916 and 1937, Congress provided that the counties would receive 75% of the gross revenues from the sale of those lands, far more than the counties have and would receive if the lands remained under private ownership.
The generous provision resulted in a windfall that allowed many of these counties have levy some of the lowest property tax rates in the nation, while at the same time providing a high level of local government services. Beginning in the early 1990s, precipitated by the listing of the northern spotted owl under the Endangered Species Act, federal timber revenues to the O&C counties plummetted. Three times so far—and a fourth is in the works as of this writing in 2011—Congress provided alternative funding the O&C counties.
The O&C Counties seek to reach a point where the federal government pays them $110 million (adjusted for inflation) annually, which is the average the three highest years ever of timber receipts. In these years, both log prices and logging levels were extremely high, with essentially all of the logs coming from the logging of old-growth forest.
2010 Proposal Background Materials
Though now withdrawn, background materials for their "Federal Forest Counties and Schools Stabilization Act of 2010" is useful to understand AOCC's intent:
• Key Goals;
• Frequently Asked Questions; and
• Poll Results.