3 Apr 2012, 9:26pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin

A Devolutionary Idea: Give Oregon Counties Our Public Forests

The following essay is posted with permission from the author, Jim Welsh, Publisher and Editor of MooCountyNews.com, Tillamook County’s local online news journal [here].

Jim writes: As I examine the relationships between various levels of government, I see a common thread: power arising to the highest or most powerful entity with a corresponding decrease in accountability and effectiveness due to what I will call a lack of ownership by those working at the higher levels of the government.

One of the biggest impediments to what I call “Devolution” is an desire by too many conservatives to go to Washington or Salem with a belief that that Washington or Salem can be made to work more efficiently. It is a political oxymoron. The question is not whether those places can be made to work more efficiently but rather should they even be doing the things they do?

Do we really need the State parks in Tillamook County to be managed by Salem? Do we need Rest Areas on Hwy 101 in Tillamook to be managed by ODOT. Do we need ODFW to run hatcheries to stock our rivers? Do really expect an administrator in Salem will ever have the knowledge of a State Forest that a local Forester who walks it every day has.

Until we can convince the public that the real issue is about what level of government should provide our necessary agreed upon services, I am afraid we will be forever hearing both parties say they can run Big Government better.

*****

A Devolutionary Idea: Give Oregon Counties Our Public Forests

by Jim Welsh, MooCountyNews, March 28, 2023 [here]

We keep hearing from our elected representatives how hard they are working to solve the problems with Oregon’s counties that rely on timber harvesting for their funding. But the real problem is they continue to try to fix the problem with solutions that are at least 100 years outdated. There are two giant landowners in Oregon, the Federal government and the State of Oregon. Let’s look at these landowners and think about whether they really need to continue to be landowners anymore or at least to the extent they are today.

Start with the all forest lands owned by various departments of the Federal government. For the most part these lands initially became Federal property by dint of sale or treaty or sometimes as a spoil of war. However they were gained, they became the responsibility of Washington, D.C. because these acquired lands were not yet states. They were Federal territories. Over time citizens were allowed to stake claims to parcels of land and eventually these territories were populated enough that they became states. If people worked hard and improved these land claims they would eventually gain ownership of the land. Much of the private property of the United States had its origin in this system. Of course, as we see today, not all of these lands were given away or sold to individual citizens. The Federal government retained much of these territorial lands or later ceded large tracts to a newly admitted state.

There are a variety of reasons the Federal government held onto many of these large tracts of land. Some were held because they had no present economic value, some because the land had strategic value (forts, landmarks, etc) and some because they had value for large future projects. (I do not speak of National Parks and most National Monuments which comprise a very small percentage of Federal land holdings).

When these lands were initially acquired by the Federal government, by fiat, it became the landowner. And since there were no other governmental entities to oversee or protect them it fell to the Federal Government to manage these lands.

During the late 19th century, the Federal government often gave large tracts of land to railroads in exchange for risking their capital to build railroads through these Federal lands. In Oregon and California there were huge tracts of land so deeded. They were to be used for the benefit of the citizens of these states. Due to a variety of reasons including corruption and mismanagement, at the beginning of the 20th century the Federal government took control of these lands again and began the practice of selling timber harvest permits to logging and lumber companies. The Federal government and the State of Oregon and its counties then shared the “profits” from the sale of the logging rights. It worked very well and Oregon prospered, especially rural Oregon where these large tracts of land restricted the collection of property taxes.

While the average wages of workers in rural counties did not equal those of metropolitan Oregon, the spread between the two was substantially closer than today as a result of the jobs create by these timber sales. Although working in the timber industry was hard work, the pay was rewarding and provided what we today call living wage jobs. As an example, in 1970 Tillamook County wages were 85% of the average national wage. Not bad considering the beautiful scenery that surrounded you and the lower cost of living that rural Oregon provided. Today, with the severe restrictions placed upon logging on public lands, the average wage in Tillamook County has fallen to 68% of the national average.

How did this happen? Enter environmental politics in the 1980’s. No longer were Federal forests looked at as a source of jobs for rural Oregonians. Flora and fauna became the trump card of environmentalists opposing the harvest of Oregon’s most sustainable renewable resource. And the biggest obstacle to the solution of this political problem has been to get 535 members of Congress to somehow give a damn how Oregon’s Federal forests are harvested. And the same goes for the 90 state legislators in Salem.

This problem is not unique to the timber industry. It is the same with anything that must be decided in Washington, D.C or Salem. So how do we get around this? The solution is always the same: Devolution of power and responsibility to an entity (problem solver) closest to the people who live with the problem. Move the management of a problem down to the lowest governmental entity (or private entity) that can solve or manage the problem.

Does anyone really think the present management of these lands by the Federal government or the State of Oregon is a model of responsibility? Just look at the horrible fires that occur on these lands. Look at the destructive insect infestations that are consuming up to 25% of the timber which then provides the fuel for those devastating fires. Why does this happen? Because the stewardship of these lands is determined, in far away places, by people who more often than not have no idea where these lands are even located. There is nothing in the Constitution that says the Federal government must own forests. Or for that matter that the State of Oregon must own forests. As I’ve said, the Federal government does so just because it was the first owner of these lands. Now if the Feds don’t really need to own these lands, then the solution is to devolve the management and eventually the ownership of these lands to entities closest to those who will benefit from these lands.

Just as an example, I live in the small Oregon town of Nehalem. Our town owns a nice tract of land which contains the watershed for our water system. Our small little city manages our little “forest” and every few years we harvest timber for the benefit of our city’s municipal needs.

I am on the city council. When I first became a councilor one of the things that really impressed me was the strong sense of ownership of this property that my fellow councilors demonstrated. When we discuss issues related to our watershed you can feel the sense of responsibility we share for the long term health and well-being of this tract of land. It is ours and we understand that we are its stewards and are responsible for handing it down to future generations of Nehalem residents for their future use. The old Boy Scout saying “Leave it better than when you found it” applies.

When we cut timber, we replant. When we harvest, slash is burned. When brush begins to obstruct our roads, we keep them clear so that, if a fire breaks out, fire vehicles can access our land. Does anyone really think if this land were owned by the Federal government or the State of Oregon it could be managed better?

While the history behind the ownership of our state forests is not exactly the same as the Federal lands and forests the same principle of Devolution applies.

A hundred and fifty years ago, or even a hundred years ago, there might have been an argument for Federal or State control of these forests. Oregon’s counties often did not have the means to manage large tracts of land. The development of modern transportation and technology have enabled even the smallest government entity to have access to the same information about forest management today as the Federal and State government has. Why then not devolve the management of Federal and State forests to the counties in which they are located?

Lets face it, smaller organizations can effect change much faster than large organizations. If there are disease problems, which governmental entity will recognize and act on the problems faster: the Federals, the Staters or your newly created county Forestry Department? (No, we wouldn’t be creating more bureaucracy. Simultaneously this devolvement would require the elimination of now unnecessary Federal and State bureaucracies). My money is on my local county government. When there are problems where do you think a solution is reached quicker: In Washington D.C. with 535 members of debating, in the Oregon Legislature in Salem with 90 participants or by a local county Board of Commissioners composed of 3,5 or 7 members. Even a five year old can figure out that answer.

Now this is not to say that the State of Oregon would have nothing to do with forest lands. It could continue to do research and assist in facilitating agreements between counties with disputes or common needs. The point is that the management of the previously Federal and State forests would become the province of Oregon’s counties. The incomes that the Feds and the State used to reap from timber sales could be continued in a reduced but fair level.

I have no reason to doubt that Tillamook County would have any more difficulty in managing the Tillamook State Forest or the Federal forests within its borders than the Feds or the State of Oregon. The bottom line is that the people of Tillamook County or Clatsop County or any other Oregon County can and should have the primary say-so in how the forests within their borders are managed and used. Top down micro-management is a poor business model especially when decisions are made to satisfy interests having no skin in the game. Most business owners know that most innovation and cost savings often spring from those closest to the problem. And managing forests, like it or not, is a business. There must be a profit (harvest) so that new equipment (seedlings) can be purchased to replace aging equipment (old and dying trees).

Our representatives at the State and Federal level have, for thirty years, been trying to solve these forest issues by looking for solutions to come out of the same entities that are creating the problems. Our Federal and State forest management problems will not be solved by the bureaucracies in Washington, D.C. or Salem. Those problems will be solved by allowing Tillamook citizens or Clatsop citizens, through accessible local government, the means and methods to improve and protect their (hopefully) locally owned forests. If the Federal government could give away land a hundred and fifty years ago it can do so now. Can you imagine how the economies of Tillamook and Clatsop counties would react to the news that the Federal and State forests within their boundaries would now be managed locally?

Yes, I will admit this is yet just a dream. But all things are but dreams until someone begins to work on turning a dream into reality.

Now here’s the challenge to the citizens of House District 32, Senate District 16, and Congressional District 5: Unless you vote to change your current representatives in Salem and Washington, D.C. you’ll never see any change. They only know how to work inside the box. And in fact the boxes are the problems.

The real solutions are outside the box. How many times would you call a plumber to fix a leak if that plumber could never fix the leak? My friends, we need some new plumbers in Washington, D.C. and Salem.

4 Apr 2012, 7:28am
by bear bait


Voting makes a difference, except in Oregon. Here, it it how Multnomah county votes for that decides elections. The rest of Oregon is a fiefdom. We need a State government that has one state senator per county. The Senate we have is based on a population count, not a land area and commonality. And, every decade the Sec of State gets to gerrymander the Senate Districts to reflect his party’s power and influence. Whatever kind of constitutional change that might require is needed. It would equalize the power of land area with the power of the population centers.

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