Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Western Oregon BLM Federal Public Forestlands:

A Survey of How Much the O&C Counties Have Received From the Federal Government Over Time

By any metric the O&C counties are demanding more money than they ever received as shares of federal timber sales.

The expiration of the Secure Rural Schools Act, which provided direct federal payments to timber-addicted counties, necessitates answering the question: How much money do the O&C counties deserve from federal government?

In 2012, the Association of O&C Counties seeks $134 million/year to replace the O&C Fund. This is up from their demand of $110 million/year in 2011 and $97 million/year in 2010. Who knows what they will want in 2013?

The Three Clearcuteers (Congressmen Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader) are considering legislation that would carve out on the order of 1.5 million acres of Western Oregon federal public forests managed by the Bureau of Land Management and dedicate them to intensive timber production (generally clearcutting) for the benefit of the 18 “O&C” counties. The higher the amount of money they are trying to give the counties, the more federal public forestland that must be effectively privatized to get out the cash (related to getting out the cut). While their draft legislation doesn't specify an annual dollar amount to the O&C counties, I estimate it to be approximately $70 million/year, based on timber volume and timber growth rate information provided by the Association of O&C Counties' forestry consulting firm and 2006-2010 average BLM log (stumpage) prices (the housing boom busted in 2007).

On average between 1960 and 1993 (the last "normal" year of timber payments) the O&C counties averaged $56 million/year.

During the "Roaring [Chainsaw]" 80s, the O&C counties averaged $77 million/year. During this time, over two square miles per week of old-growth forest was being logged in Oregon.

During the "Owl Payments" years (special congressional appropriations to counties who saw a fall down in timber revenues due to the protection of the northern spotted owl; 1994-2000) the O&C counties averaged $70 million/year.

During the first Secure Rural Schools Act (2001-2006), the O&C counties averaged $112 million/year.

During the second Secure Rural Schools Act (2007-2012), the O&C counties averaged $68 million/year.

The last year (FY 2012) of SRS yielded $40 million. Congress extended this amount for one year (FY 2013).

If the O&C formula of 75% was in effect between 2001-2010, the average receipts would have been $15.9 million/year.

If S.1692 (112th Congress), the County Payments Reauthorization Act had become law (2012-2016), the O&C counties would have averaged $34 million/year.

If the O&C lands were still—as they once were—in private ownership and the O&C counties assessed property taxes at the same rate as they do on private timberlands, the revenues from such taxes (at 2010 rates) would be $8 million/year.

In the absence of new legislation, the O&C counties will default to the permanent provision of law pertaining to federal revenue sharing, the O&C Lands Act of 1937. That statute provided that the O&C counties would receive 75% of gross timber revenues. From the 1950s until the early 1990s, the O&C counties waived one-third of their due back to BLM to be used for management. It is doubtful they would do so again. For reference, counties with lands in the National Forest System receive 25% of gross timber receipts (in the absence of a special congressional payment program).

Closing question: How much would the O&C counties have to tax private timberlands to receive a comparable amount of what they get under the O&C Lands Act of 1937?

Answer: A 75% tax on gross (not net) sales of timber.

The fully footnoted PDF version of this section is in a memorandum entitled Federal Payments to the O&C Counties, 1960-2012.