Jackson County received $5,021,210 this month to offset financial losses from reduced logging on federal land inside its borders, but the amount is far less than the $15,100,000 in shared timber revenue the county received in 1991 when logging was strong.
In today’s dollars, that $15 million figure would be $28 million.
Jackson County Commissioner Colleen Roberts said she is grateful for the federal payments, but she said she would rather see a timber management strategy that puts more people to work in the forests.
“Management creates jobs and generates the money that can pay for county services,” Roberts said.
County officials are also concerned U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management forests are crowded with too much underbrush and trees per acre, which increases wildfire danger and reduces forest health as trees compete for moisture, nutrients and sunlight.
“Our hope is that forests will be managed to reduce the fire danger, stop the smoke that has filled the valley for the last several years, and to improve the economy and reduce the tax burden by implementing a sustained yield on these O&C forest lands,” County Administrator Danny Jordan wrote in a message to the Jackson County Citizens Budget Committee this spring.
Many scientists agree that removing undergrowth and small-diameter trees while leaving large, fire-resilient trees behind is the best strategy to improve forest health and cut the risk of destructive wildfires.
But thinning is less lucrative than traditional logging, and often requires government subsidies. Thinning projects that include logging of trees big enough to be commercially valuable are often challenged by environmental groups.
The replacement funding to counties to help compensate for lost logging revenue comes through the federal Secure Rural Schools Act.
President Donald Trump signed an extension of the funding in December 2019, and money was disbursed to counties this month, just as counties are battling the COVID-19 crisis.
Counties use the money to help fund education, roads, public safety, health services and other needs.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., were among the members of Congress who helped create the replacement funding program two decades ago. Oregon’s congressional delegation has had to keep fighting to get the payments renewed.
“Getting these payments out the door is especially important during this pandemic,” Walden said. “While this funding is needed, what we really need is to reform forest management policies, so we can reduce the size and severity of wildfires and produce good paying jobs and tax revenues in our forest counties.”
Wyden and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, a fellow Democrat, are part of a bipartisan group of 27 senators who want to see the logging revenue replacement funding made permanent.
The uncertainty of the payments has wreaked havoc on rural America for decades, and now counties are under more financial strain from the COVID-19 crisis, the bipartisan group of senators said in an April letter to the Senate urging permanent funding.
“With inadequate funding and now additional demands on their resources, rural communities and counties are at the breaking point,” the senators wrote.
Josephine County received $4,546,392 in logging revenue replacement payments this month.
“Josephine County wants to restore jobs in our forests,” said Josephine County Commissioner Darin Fowler. “In the meantime, we continue to advocate for the federal agencies to pay their share of responsibility.”
Josephine County was one of the counties hardest hit by the dropoff in logging. It was heavily reliant on shared timber revenue to fund services and has a permanent property tax rate of just 58 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.
After suffering through years of gutted county services, Josephine County voters eventually approved supplemental taxes to support its criminal justice system, libraries and animal shelter.
Jackson County’s permanent property tax rate is $2.01. Jackson County voters approved supplemental property taxes to fund libraries.
Urban counties in the Portland area that didn’t historically depend on logging revenue have permanent property tax rates that range from $2.25 to $4.34 per $1,000 of assessed value.