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

Commissioners support forestry reform bill

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

Officials in Marion and Linn counties have spoken in favor of a bill that could transfer control of state-owned forest lands to county governments, who would then set policies for logging, revenue and conservation.

Supporters of Senate Bill 795 argue it would allow county leaders to prioritize local forestry needs, such as economic opportunities and wildfire planning.

Commissioners for Marion and Linn counties echoed these sentiments in letters to the Senate Committee On Natural Resources, which held a public hearing Feb. 27 on the bill.

“Allowing local control over forest lands located in the county allows real time management and decision making that is critical to those communities,” wrote the Marion County Board of Commissioners.

“Our economics and community stability are at risk with no consideration for our perspectives and needs,” wrote the Linn County Board of Commissioners.

SB 795 would direct the Oregon Board of Forestry to convey state forest lands to a county if the board of commissioners “determines that conveyance of the forest lands to the county would secure the greatest permanent value of the forest lands to the county.” The county would bear closing costs such as recording fees, escrow fees and title insurance, and reimburse the state for costs from the original transaction that conveyed forest lands to state control.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Fred Girod (R-Stayton) and Sen. DB Smith (R-Port Orfard). 

Critics believe SB 795 would enable the exploitation of natural resources, fearing counties struggling financially would value revenue over conservation and the reduction of climate pollution. Such opposition comprised a minority of written testimony received during the Feb. 27 hearing, with support from officials, organizations and residents throughout the state accounting for more thant two thirds of testimony received.

Locally, Santiam State Forest comprises more than 47,000 acres in Marion, Linn and Clackamas counties and is managed by the North Cascade District of the Oregon Department of Forestry. The lands were deeded by these counties to the state in 1939 with an agreement to share future timber revenues.

Linn County Commissioners believe the state has not held up its end of this agreement and has pursued conservation policies that do not account for local revenue and employment needs. In their letter, dated Feb. 24, commissioners said SB 795 would give counties new options to pursue sustainable timber harvests.

“The revenue from the sale of logs is the smaller part of the impact that timber has on our communities; there are mills, transportation, restocking the forest, thinning, road construction, logging, plywood, mass timber, secondary jobs with paper, pellets and shaving,” said the letter. “The millions the counties get directly from timber sales is much smaller than the value of the jobs and the taxes the companies and employees pay to a county and state in total in payroll and property taxes.”

Marion County Commissioners also emphasized the role forest management plays in wildfire prevention, citing the destructive wildfires in the Santiam Canyon in 2020. They said damage from the fires “could have been prevented or mitigated” with proper forest management, and said SB 795 would allow local governments to take such preventative measures.

“SB 795 allows counties to act in a manner that supports the communities to the maximum benefit of all, including the forest land,” said commissioners in their letter, dated Feb. 27. “Not only will the county have the responsibility to manage its lands as needed, but it will reduce the burden of the state to be overseeing and working all these areas at once.”

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