Rests with corporate owners, not the BLM
By Roy Keene
In his retort to Oregon Wild’s confused comment on the Bureau of Land Management’s forest management, Lane County Commissioner Faye Stewart reminds the group that BLM forests are under a unique management mandate, the 1937 O&C Act.
Directing BLM forests to be sustainably managed, the act also says to sell “so much (timber) thereof as can be sold at reasonable prices in a normal market.” In seeking to increase BLM timber sales in today’s dismal domestic log market, some commissioners also misunderstand the act’s directives.
To bolster local timber supplies and jobs, commissioners should be working to reduce rampant log exports. They should also be working to reduce unearned tax exemptions on corporate forest lands and timber harvesting in order to increase revenues to counties.
Regional log export volumes tripled in the last two years. At 570 million board feet, 2011’s second quarter exports were threefold BLM’s entire 2010 timber harvest! The same large multinational corporations rapidly exporting their forests pay no harvest tax and little or no property tax on land and residual timber.
Though this is a double whammy for counties, commissioners have yet to even comment on these huge forest resource and tax losses. Why don’t they discuss invoking the Export Administration Act? Why don’t they review the huge unearned tax exemptions on corporate forests and timber harvesting? Might some commissioners also have financial interests in maintaining a failing forest status quo?
In seeking to ecologically and economically improve forest management in Oregon, the real problem should be identified. It’s not the sustainably managed BLM forest, it’s the over-logged other half of the checkerboard — the equally vast industrial forest. Three quarters of the logging in Western Oregon occurs in these forests. It’s only fair that they should share responsibility for sustaining forest ecosystems, providing local timber, and paying equitable taxes.
Some will defend the wealthy owners, saying, “The public has no right to exert control over their property.” But common private property owners are, indeed, subject to public control. Zoning, building regulations, and even condemnation exist for the greater good.
Some will remind us of the “protective” Forest Practices Act. Oregon’s archaic FPA has yet to stop the liquidation of watersheds, massive forest poisoning, or the damage to publicly owned water, wildlife and fisheries entwined within the corporate forest. In reality, the FPA protects logging, not Oregon’s forest or people. As long as its toothless rules are given a nod, nonsustainable, destructive and even dangerous logging practices continue with legal impunity.
In 1977, Oregon’s forest owners were exempted from annual property taxes on the value of their standing timber. Instead, forest owners would pay a “privilege” tax at harvest. This exemption was to “Encourage (sustainable) forestry and the restocking of forestlands, enhance the water supply, prevent erosion, provide habitat for wildlife, provide scenic and recreational opportunities, and provide for needed products.”
Yet over the ensuing decades, many of Oregon’s richest watersheds were clear-cut by big timber corporations and left as unstocked, slash-filled eyesores. Hillsides eroded, streams were muddied, salmon runs declined and log exports boomed. Domestic mills, unable to compete for “needed products,” laid off workers.
Ironically, the next big timber tax break was shamelessly given to forest owners of over 5,000 acres. Passing House Bill 3575 in 1999, the Legislature relieved these owners of paying the “privilege” harvest taxes. The Oregonian newspaper reported the first-year reductions to have cost education $58 million. By 2004, the “privilege” harvest tax fell to zero, and the final financial impact to education went undeclared.
Oregon’s 1995 Budget Accountability Act says tax exemptions (expenditures) “provide special benefits to favored individuals and thus result in higher tax rates for all.” The act calls for “a review of the fairness and efficiency of all tax exemptions” and directs “the public and policy makers to make criteria based decisions on whether exemptions should be continued.”
The 2009-11 Tax Expenditure Report shows the exemption for privately owned standing timber in Western Oregon to be $313.3 million, with a “shift” of $63.4 million. This is the burden shifted to other taxpayers to make up for revenue losses. In 2011-13, this exemption rises to $394.9 million and the shift jumps to $79.9 million! Big timber owners will pay less tax in 2013, you and I will pay more.
Where is the “fairness and efficiency” of continuing tax exemptions to an out-of-state corporation like Weyerhaeuser, which is clear-cutting and exporting forestland in the McKenzie watershed while reporting revenues at $6 billion in 2010?
Why should the sustainably managed BLM portion of the checkerboard forest be logged harder to “fix” its perceived ecological and economic problems? Instead of confining “fixes” to public lands, why not fix what’s really broken? County commissioners should seek to constrain corporate forest owners to log sustainably, keep more logs at home and pay fair taxes.
Roy Keene of Eugene has worked as a forest consultant and timber broker in Oregon’s private forests for 35 years.
(This article appeared in the October 11, 2011 edition of The Register-Guard.)