Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



Washington County Commissioners should opt out of a class action lawsuit aimed at wringing more than $1 billion from the State of Oregon for distribution to 15 counties with state-held forest lands.

They have until Jan. 25 to withdraw from the suit pending in Linn County Circuit Court (see story, page A1). And, we should note, Washington County commissioners never voted to be included in the class action suit to begin with. If they don’t act, they remain participants in a suit that most county residents wouldn’t support.

In our opinion, the lawsuit seeks to impose a definition of “greatest permanent value” on these state-held lands by measuring “value” by the amount of money raised through timber sales alone.

While that might be a sound legal argument, it makes little sense for Washington County. First, because Washington County residents have a different, communal understanding of the “value” of such lush forests on our back doorstep. That value includes fishing, hiking, camping and access for families and youth. Relatively inexpensive access, at that — a low- or middle-income family might not be able to get to Yosemite any time soon, but they can throw a tent in the car and hit Elk Creek by noon.

Second, because the State of Oregon doesn’t have the $1 billion-plus in loose change lying around. Should the lawsuit succeed, where would the money come from? It would come from money now spent on education and health care, distributed to communities in all 36 Oregon counties. Put another way, the lawsuit would mandate robbing Peter’s county to pay Paul’s county.

Third, if the suit should win, it would be appealed. Endlessly. Washington County and the other 14 named in the suit wouldn’t see a dime for years. If the current Board of Commissioners thinks this is a good way to align the coming year’s budget, think again.

Fourth, a policy to maximize timber production doubtless would run afoul of rules aimed at protecting endangered species. Does anyone think an appellate court would back a suit that would allow Oregon to skirt federally mandated environmental protection rules? Not likely.

We acknowledge the real pain inflicted on timber-dependent counties that have had to pay the price for decreased logging on all types of lands. Current forest practices attempt to balance cutting timber with preserving species and recreation. Is the balance perfect? Probably not. But better than a drastic increase in the first to the detriment of the other two.

Gifford Pinchot, forester and first director of the United States Forest Service, famously said, “Where conflicting interests must be reconciled, the question shall always be answered from the standpoint of the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run.”

We maintain that “greatest good” and “greatest permanent value” are one and the same, and are defined by a balance between profitable logging, recreation and protection of nature. The Linn County suit would unbalance the well-balanced plan we now enjoy.

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