It is astonishing the lengths and twists and contortions our elected leaders are willing to go to avoid abolishing tax forgiveness for the timber industry.
Coos County’s progressive community has absolutely no representation on the county commission. Discussing the merits of participating in a class action lawsuit proposed by Linn County against the State of Oregon, the commissioners made it clear that nature only has value when it has been extracted and converted into a smartphone or a two-by-four. After decades of empirical evidence demonstrating the folly of this path our commissioners are satisfied to tether county finances to timber harvests and the vagaries of the housing market.
The suit alleges that the State doesn’t hold the same view of value as the eleven counties, Coos among them, that have chosen to stay timber dependent. According to Linn County the “greatest permanent value” of the forest trust lands is to convert those forests to lumber as quickly as possible for the immediate economic benefit of the counties. The suit asks for $1.4 billion in damages claiming the state has been too slow to cut trees since adopting the Northwest State Forest Management Plan in 2001 and the state has ascribed too much value to the recreational benefit of the forests.
Commissioner Bob Main made a point of explaining the difference between the perceived value of a forest for recreational or environmental purposes and the cash value of a piece of lumber. Commission John Sweet piped in with a quip that perceived value hasn’t helped the BLM properly manage Bastendorff Beach. These are very simplistic views and it should be noted that establishing value is a fairly complicated matter subject to additional factors like timing, demand and availability. One thing is for certain, however, no one will spend even a cent on an onion at the grocery store or purchase any service unless they perceive some value.
Main’s resource extraction model of determining value obviously looks at value just in the near term. Whereas the perceived value of a forest as a carbon sink or a necessary source of oxygen and a natural gigantic clean water filtration system along with its recreational benefits transcend quarterly returns. Without thriving and healthy forests mankind would be doomed. Perceived value may well deliver dividends that span generations and, of course, the rarer something is the more valuable it tends to become. If this case is ever heard and the courts settle on a definition of greatest permanent value, the state may be found guilty of nothing more grievous than thinking ahead a few generations.
The commission admits it has no idea how Oregon would pay $1.4 billion if the class action suit prevails.
“That’s the state’s problem,” said Sweet.
Actually, it will be the taxpayers’ problem. Given the county’s tiny sliver of trust forest land the lawsuit will accomplish very little except to cost the taxpayer more money, especially if someone has to cough up a settlement. And even if logging increases which is unlikely, automation has eliminated a lot of the associated jobs.
It is astonishing the lengths and twists and contortions our elected leaders are willing to go to avoid abolishing tax forgiveness for the timber industry. Lane County is planning a similar suit against the BLM.
With so little return on the taxpayers’ investment the counties should be addressing the giant elephant in the middle of the room, unfair tax treatment for the timber industry. Instead they construct elaborate shaky scaffolding to get around the half million acres of prime timberland in Coos County paying less than $4 per acre in property taxes. Instead of suing the state for not clear cutting forests fast enough why aren’t they suing Salem to provide tax equity for Coos County citizens?