After a month long trial, after hearing more than 100 hours of testimony and reviewing hundreds of exhibits, some going back to the early 1900’s, the Linn County jury deliberated for only a few hours before returning with a verdict. The jury determined that the State had indeed breached a long-standing contract with the 13 plaintiff forest trust counties and awarded full damages of $1.065B.
Of the 15 Trust Counties, Clatsop County Commissioners opted out of the lawsuit, although the majority of their taxing districts decided to stay in and are entitled to $243M, and Judge Thomas McHill determined that Klamath County forests operate under a pre-2001 forest management plan and removed them from the lawsuit. This left 13 Counties and 151 taxing districts found to be harmed and eligible for compensation.
The 1941 Forest Acquisition Act created the idea of Greatest Permanent Value (GPV) to mean managing these forest trust lands to return timber revenue to the Counties, taxing districts, and the Oregon Dept. of Forestry (ODF). It was in 1998 that the Board of Forestry decided to change the definition of GPV, and for the last 20 years, timber revenue suffered while the State instead prioritized going far above the mandates of the Federal Endangered Species Act and directing funds to increasing recreational opportunities.
While these are admirable goals, these shortfalls over the last 20 years were being born entirely by the trust counties. What the jury found is that the trust counties have been shorted $1.065B to provide these additional services to all residents of Oregon and it is only fair that we be fairly compensated for these services. Over the last 20 years, trust counties have had to cut public safety, education, emergency services, road maintenance, healthcare, libraries, and other essential services.
When it comes to natural resource-based industries, Tillamook County is blessed with dynamic timber, dairy, and fishing opportunities. Some think that increasing timber harvest will harm the environment. As a Tillamook County Commissioner, I am proud to be able to say that when it comes to clean water, habitat restoration, and fish recovery…no Oregon County does these things better than Tillamook County.
Over the decades, our timber, dairy, and fishing partners have collaborated with our Tillamook County public works department, watershed councils, OR Watershed Enhancement Board, Tillamook Soil & Water Conservation, Tillamook Estuaries Partnership, Salmon SuperHwy, and others to provide continuing improvements to our watersheds.
We recently completed a 600+ acre, $11M habitat restoration project called Southern Flow Corridor. In Tillamook County, we have over 3500 culverts, which often, due to increased fish passage rules, need to be replaced with a bridge…which is an expensive proposition. This is one of the reasons we have a bridge for every 3 miles of roadway. A difficult environment for a small rural county, but a true success story in Oregon.
David Yamamoto is a member of the Tillamook County Board of Commissioners