On Dec. 13, the Legislature met in a special session and addressed a number of key issues, including providing rent assistance to tenants and housing providers who have been impacted by the COVID pandemic.
But a number of other critical items were also taken up. These included much-needed support for those trapped in the abysmal human trafficking connected to drug cartel-supported illegal marijuana grows in southern and central Oregon, while directly attacking the cartel-supported growers. And in classic Oregon form, we are supporting refugees from Afghanistan, allocating more resources than any other state. We also sent strategic and important assistance to rural communities impacted by drought.
While there is more work that needs to be done, recognizing the burden rural communities face on multiple fronts is a crucial step. On the Senate floor, I noted the critical need to take the time to talk to each other more and recognize the struggles our communities face.
There is an opportunity facing us right now that could help bring us together. The Oregon Court of Appeals is set to hear oral arguments on Feb. 22 in a case brought by 13 Forest Trust Land Counties. The case is about a management policy on timberlands that counties donated to the state in the late 1930s — those counties are now Forest Trust Land Counties. At issue is the revenue from those lands and how that is retained through sustainable forestry practices. Decisions in the late 1990s created a significant hardship in many rural communities.
The initial court judgment a couple years ago — the legal and financial burden for the state — was $1 billion and will potentially grow as the case continues. Not being a lawyer, I learned long ago to not guess the way court decisions may fall.
As Oregonians, we need a settlement that produces a solution recognizing both the environmental and recreational values of these lands and the economic burden sustained by rural communities by changes in resource management. Recently, Gov. Kate Brown helped bring parties together to reach an historic agreement on helping small woodlot owners enhance protection for their timberlands while also compensating them for those additional enhancements. That same principle could be applied to resolving this litigation. As Oregonians, we should all share in the benefits and costs of resource management and not shoulder rural communities with paying the whole tab.
Litigation is based on producing an outcome of winners and losers. That is not how this matter should be handled though. We cannot continue down that path. Repeating political rhetoric that divides Oregonians based on the number of trees, fields, beaches and houses around them does not create a better Oregon. Coming to the table, listening to each other, and committing to forging workable solutions can help bring us together again. This effective opportunity is before us. We should seize it now.
State Sen. Lew Frederick represents portions of North and Northeast Portland in District 22 in the Oregon Legislature.
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