Lane County commmissioners agree to help fund lawsuit against BLM Western Oregon management plan

Register Guard - February 4, 2016

The Association of O&C Counties, expecting that BLM’s final plan will allow much less logging than counties want, intends to file a lawsuit alleging the BLM plan violates the O&C Act of 1937, said Lane County Commissioner Faye Stewart, who is vice president of the counties association. The 1937 federal law requires a substantial annual level of logging on BLM’s Western Oregon lands, logging advocates say.

County commissioners hope the lawsuit forces the federal government to at least double the logging rate on BLM’s

Western Oregon lands, providing jobs to the timber industry and tax revenue to Lane County. The federal government gives counties a portion of revenue from sales of federal timber.

The lawsuit is expected to be filed this summer after the BLM releases its final management plan. The management plan will dictate how much timber can be logged on the 2.5 million acres of Western Oregon forestland under BLM ownership.

Lane County commissioners voted 3-1 Tuesday to help with the $530,000 in legal fees the Association of O&C Counties will pay Portland law firm Stoel Rives to represent them in the suit.

Stewart, Pat Farr and Sid Leiken voted to provide the $84,000 over the next three years. Pete Sorenson opposed the payment. Commissioner Jay Bozievich, who was absent from Tuesday’s meeting, has advocated for increased logging on federal forests.

“This is about us standing up for an asset that belongs, at this point, to the counties,” Stewart said. “The law requires that land to be managed for sustainable (timber) harvests. I think we have an obligation to the citizens of Lane County to defend what’s rightfully theirs.”

The suit figures to be the latest round in a decades-long feud among logging advocates, environmental groups and government agencies over logging on BLM lands. Environmental advocates say a number of federal laws restrict logging on federal lands and that the O&C Act of 1937 isn’t the only thing guiding harvests on BLM land.

The O&C Act requires the federal government to log at least 500 million board feet each year from the Western Oregon BLM forestlands covered by the O&C law.

Conservationists have argued that federal land management policies — notably the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan — override the 500 million board feet requirement.

Sorenson, opposing the payment, noted the decades of lawsuits between logging and conservation advocates against the federal government. The BLM’s final plan is bound to spark a new round of lawsuits this summer, whether or not Lane County pays to participate, Sorenson said.

“We don’t need to get involved in every fight out there,” he said. “There’s a lot of merit in thinking through if we want to be part of a new round of timber wars.”

But other commissioners said the federal logging restrictions have hurt Lane County’s budget, as well as the budgets of the other 17 county governments in the Association of O&C Counties.

“We are being forced to the realm of the poorhouse with this system,” Farr said. The $84,000 payment “is a lot of money,” but a favorable ruling against the BLM would more than make up for that, Farr said.

A draft of the BLM’s management plan, released last year, outlined a wide range of annual harvest targets, from 180 million board feet to 550 million board feet. In 2012, some 205 million board feet was logged from O&C land.

One million board feet yields enough wood to build about 33 average single-family homes.

The Association of O&C Counties has said up to 1.2 billion board feet could be logged each year.

Leiken said a lawsuit against the BLM would send a statement to federal and state leaders, who have “turned their backs” on rural Oregon.

Leiken mentioned the ongoing occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon by armed protesters, saying federal land policies are hurting rural workers and could drive them to extreme measures such as the refuge takeover.

“The last thing we need happening is another incident like they had in Harney County,” Leiken said.

The $84,000 would likely be made in two or three payments between now and mid-2018. Lane County’s money would be returned if the BLM’s final management plan turned out to be more favorable to logging, and the Association of O&C Counties decided not to sue.

Just two of the 18 O&C counties — Douglas and Jackson — have more federal forest land within their boundaries than Lane County.

The BLM’s new resource management plan will update its current plan, which was adopted in 1995.