Opinion: New timber taxes would scuttle economic recovery
As a native Oregonian who is actively involved in the forestry community today, I'm offended by Regan Fisher's Feb. 19 opinion piece ("It is time to reconsider Oregon's timber severance tax").
I live in one of the communities Fisher wrote about and I'm dismayed that someone who lives in Portland would make sweeping conclusions about who we are and what's best for us from behind the windshield of her car as she drives by.
Contrary to Fisher's assertions, timber jobs and businesses have always been and remain the economic backbone of rural Oregon. The industry provides over 60,000 family wage jobs in Oregon, mostly in rural communities. In many Oregon counties, forestry jobs are the best around. In Clatsop County where I live, forestry jobs pay almost twice as much as the average annual wage. Our community can't afford to lose these good paying jobs.
We can agree on this — county budgets are tight and critical services are underfunded. A variety of events caused that reality. It is short-sighted to target the forest sector for causing these budget shortfalls.
Those of us that work in the forest remember the impact to rural Oregon from the listing of the spotted owl as a threatened species in the 1990s. Ask anyone who worked in the forest during that time and they will have numerous stories to tell about the loss of their livelihood. Oregon timber harvests dropped by half after the owl was listed, two thirds of Oregon lumber mills closed, eliminating well over half of all mill employment.
Left behind were thousands of loggers, truckers and others who depend on mill operations for their income, as well as secondary businesses like grocery stores, coffee shops and gas stations that rely on business from those employed in the industry.
Eliminating good jobs
Now is the worst possible time to impose a new timber tax.
In 2020, many communities endured massive layoffs and the worst wildfires in Oregon history and are struggling to recover and rebuild. A new tax on timber will eliminate more jobs and businesses in rural communities that are already suffering multiple extreme hardships.
Sixty-four percent of Oregonians oppose new taxes and regulations on businesses struggling to recover. Our focus should remain on restoring hundreds of thousands of acres of burned forests back to healthy, thriving forests that prevent future fires, protect water quality, and capture and store carbon — NOT taxing the very people doing that work.
Keeping working forests working is in the best interest of all Oregonians, and it is in statute as Goal 4 of our land-use system. Our current tax and land-use systems work together to sustain forestland in Oregon and prevent conversion like has happened in our neighboring states. Since 1907, Oregon has maintained 94% of its forestland area, whereas Washington and California have lost over 15% of their forestland to other uses. Changing this tax system encourages deforestation of forestland for uses such as (residential, industrial, agricultural) that do not provide environmental benefits like carbon capture and storage, wildlife habitat, clean water, and recreation.
I'd encourage Fisher and others who espouse changing our forest tax system to spend a day with one of us out in the woods so she can see for her own eyes the benefits of keeping forests working: cold clean forest streams, abundant wildlife, fresh air, and healthy forests. That's good for all Oregonians.
Jenny Johnson, of Astoria, is a forester who advocates for sustainable forest management.
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