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Revenue from local harvests on state-managed lands is far lower than in recent years

COURTESY OF THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY - Garrett Armstrong of the Oregon Department of Forestry climbs a steep embankment to plant a Western red cedar tree in the bank of Gales Creek, one of the sites where restoration projects have been funded by the state's portion of timber revenues.Columbia County received $376,759 from timber sales on state-owned timberland in the 2020 fiscal year, according to a recent report by the Oregon Department of Forestry.

That revenue is less than one-seventh of the county's 2019 revenue, which was $2,847,908.

It is far below the 10-year average income for the county, which is $832,663.

Columbia County is one of 15 "trust land counties" that handed over ownership of forest land to the state starting in the 1940s, under the agreement that the state would manage the lands and return two-thirds of timber harvest revenue to the counties.

In 2020, the Oregon Department of Forestry harvested 238 million board feet of timber, generating $105.7 million. Of that, $69 million was divided up among the 15 trust land counties and local governments.

Differences in the number of board feet harvested year-to-year come from variations in the actual amount of board feet contained within sold timberland, which state foresters try to keep constant, according to the ODF. Differences in harvests year-to-year can also be influenced by the choices of timber purchasers, according to ODF's annual Council of Forest Trust Land Counties report.

Of the 238 million board feet harvested in the July 2019-June 2020 fiscal year, just 619,000, or 0.26%, came from Columbia County.

"Counties and local service providers receive approximately 64(%) of net revenues from timber harvests on state forests," ODF said in a statement announcing the release of the report. "The remaining revenues finance virtually all aspects of state forest management, including ODF's recreational offerings, environmental enhancement projects, replanting after timber harvest and forest road maintenance."

In ODF's annual Council of Forest Trust Land Counties report, Columbia County's projected revenue for the next four years is significantly higher, well over $1 million each year.

However, the ODF projections don't appear reliable. In the 2017 report, ODF projected that Columbia County would receive $1.6 million for 2020. The actual revenue was less than one-quarter of that.

Additionally, those projections don't account for the devastating wildfires that spread across Oregon this summer. While the fires did not spread to Columbia County forests, the 2020 fires "will cause short term disruptions in implementing annual operations plans, as high priority salvage response delays previously planned timber sales," the ODF report noted.

In 2019, a Linn County jury awarded the forest trust land counties and 151 local taxing districts $1.07 billion in a lawsuit against ODF. The counties claimed that they had lost out on potential timber revenue for decades because the state had not managed the forests for the "greatest permanent value" as that term was defined when the lands were handed over to the state.

The jury determined that Columbia County and its local taxing districts was entitled to $7.5 million in past damages and $7.4 million in future damages. The state has filed a notice that it intends to appeal the ruling to the Oregon Court of Appeals, but that court has not yet ruled on the case.

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