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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
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15 Counties Say Oregon Owes $1.4B for Timber

ALBANY, Ore. (CN) - An Oregon county claims in a proposed class action that the state owes it and 14 other counties $1.4 billion from lost timber revenue.

Linn County filed the lawsuit against the state on March 10, claiming Oregon mismanaged the revenue received from timber harvests on state lands. Linn County is the northwest part of the state, and much of its economy involves lumber industries.

In January, the county announced plans to sue the state for mismanaging timber revenues, telling the governor and state forester, various media outlets reported.

It made good on its plans last week, filing the $1.4 billion breach of contract lawsuit against the state.

Linn County and the other proposed class members are called "forest trust land" counties. Based on a 1939 law called the Forest Acquisition Act, the state allowed counties to convey forests to the state to manage.

The state is entitled to keep some of the revenue, but is obligated to return the rest to the counties, the 13-page complaint states.

According to the lawsuit, Oregon has not "maximized the potential revenue that should be generated from the forest trust lands."

The state is required to "secure the greatest permanent value" of the forest lands to the counties, which have more than 650,000 acres of state-run forests.

The figure of $1.4 billion comes from revenue allegedly lost since 2001, around $35 million a year.

"This breach of contract has had devastating effects on local communities that have seen both poverty and unemployment rates skyrocket in the last two decades as a result of the current practices," Linn County Board of Commissioners Chair Roger Nyquist said in a statement.

The Oregon Department of Forestry said it is reviewing the lawsuit, and that it is "proud of its work managing state forestlands to achieve the greatest permanent value for the state."

After receiving the notice of the intent to sue, the department sent an open letter to the county commissioners from the forest trust lands, expressing disappointment in the plan, "particularly at a time when we feel progress was underway."

The letter, signed by Oregon State Forester Doug Decker and Oregon Board of Forestry Chair Tom Imeson, encouraged communication between the parties, and tried to clear up a misunderstanding that the Justice Department instructed them not to communicate.

Some environmental groups are critical of the idea that timber harvests should continue to be a critical part of funding counties' services.

"It appears the counties missed the memo that the state is not required to log to infinity in these state lands," Joshua Laughlin of Cascadia Wildlands told the Eugene Register Guard in January when the plan was announced. "They also have a duty to protect clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and other values held closely by Oregonians."

The other forest trust land counties are: Benton, Clackamas, Clatsop, Columbia, Coos, Douglas, Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Marion, Polk, Tillamook, and Washington.

Linn County is represented by John DiLorenzo of Davis Wright Tremaine in Portland.

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