News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Linn County Commissioners support SB 765

Linn County Communications Officer

Not surprisingly, Linn County Commissioners Roger Nyquist, Sherrie Sprenger and Will Tucker announced their support of Senate Bill 795, Tuesday morning Jan. 31 at the Commission’s weekly meeting. 

The bill, sponsored by Senator Fred Girod, would give counties the authority to take back thousands of acres that were deeded to the Oregon Department of Forestry primarily in the 1930s and 1940s and which have been aggregated into nearly 700,000 known as State Forests. 

Linn County was the lead taxing district in a $1 billion breach of contract lawsuit filed in March 2016 and heard in Linn County Circuit Court in October and November 2019. The key issue for more than 140 taxing districts – counties, libraries, fire districts – was that the Department of Forestry was not managing the state forest lands based on the concept of “greatest permanent value,” agreed upon when the lands were conveyed from the counties to the state.

The taxing districts contended the term “greatest permanent value” was understood for decades to be income generated by sustainable timber sales.

But over the last 20 years, the state has reduced annual timber harvest and in turn, income to the affected counties, by placing greater emphasis on issues such as recreation, wildlife habitat and water quality.

The taxing districts prevailed in Circuit Court, but the decision was reversed in the Court of Appeals and in September 2022, the Oregon Supreme Court refused to take up the issue.

Board Chair Nyquist said the failure of the Supreme Court to hear the case “doesn’t end this issue, this conversation.”

“This is a conversation we must force the Legislature to have,” Nyquist said. “The conditions on forest lands is changing, both in terms of more fires and safety of our communities.”

Nyquist said the litigants repeatedly said during the court proceedings that the lawsuit “went way beyond a revenue issue, it’s a safety issue.”

Nyquist said the continued reduction in timber harvesting not only affects counties with the State Forest lands, but also the operational budget of the Department of Forestry.

“We are told they may be asking for $300 million for fire suppression and another $100 million to support their agency because they aren’t cutting enough trees to fund themselves,” Nyquist said.

Nyquist said since the late 1980s and 1990s, state and federal land managers have tried to create habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl and other wildlife.

“But the Spotted Owl hasn’t shown up and its competitor, the Barred Owl is destroying it,” Nyquist said. 

In other business, the commissioners:

Approved the purchase of a John Deere backhoe/loader for the Road Department for $145,361.

Approved transferring $90,000 from the Public Health Department’s temporary help budget to Capital Outlay for the purchase of a van to be renovated into a mobile clinic.

Approved a refund of $1,935 to Bob Spurlock by the Planning & Building Department.

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