From its earliest years, the agreement between the state of Oregon and what would amount to 15 counties with more than 600,000 acres of state forests included the importance of clean water, erosion control and recreational uses, an attorney for the state argued Tuesday in Linn County Circuit Court.
The attorney, Scott Kaplan, returned to that point numerous times during his cross-examination of historian Paul Levesque of Tillamook, who was on the witness stand Tuesday (he was also on the stand Friday and all day Monday) in Linn County's breach of contract lawsuit against the state of Oregon and the Oregon Department of Forestry.
The lawsuit pits 14 Oregon counties and 151 taxing districts against the state of Oregon and the Oregon Department of Forestry. Class members contend that since 1998, the counties have not received annual payments based on “greatest permanent value,” a term from a 1941 contract with the state.
In his cross-examination, Kaplan pointed to a variety of documents and publications spanning several decades as he made the case that "greatest permanent value" included attributes other than timber production.
But Levesque never wavered from his opinion that timber production and developing sustainable, healthy forests that would yield ample harvests of forest products for generations always have been at the heart of “the deal” made in 1939 and amended to include the term “greatest permanent value” in 1941.
Kaplan challenged Levesque’s testimony that when the contracts with the counties were made, the term “value” was always associated with economic terms. He asked Levesque to comment on several portions of documents in which the goals of protecting air, soil, water, wildlife habitat and recreation were listed as important considerations.
Levesque said they were “secondary” to maximizing timber values.
Kaplan said Oregon’s state forests were not developed as “county revenue forests.”
Kaplan challenged Levesque’s status as an historian and expert witness, since Levesque is self-taught, has no degrees in history or other related disciplines and is being paid by the plaintiffs.
Kaplan also showed several emails to Levesque from plaintiffs’ attorney John DiLorenzo starting in 2016, when the lawsuit was filed, implying that DiLorenzo may have been coaching Levesque on what to say.
But Levesque said DiLorenzo did not provide him with any information he did not already have or know about. He said he never felt DiLorenzo was pushing him to sculpt his testimony in a particular way.
Kaplan asked Levesque about Gifford Pinchot, the first head of the U.S. Forest Service and a friend of President Teddy Roosevelt, whom Leveque previously called a “conservationist.” Pinchot, Kaplan noted, believed that environmental values of the lands were important considerations and asked if Pinchot’s beliefs were in line with Roosevelt’s.
Levesque said Roosevelt believed conservation was intended to create sustainable forests that would provide economic vitality in perpetuity for communities and states.
Kaplan also argued that the science of timber management had advanced considerably since the 1950s.
“So, in 2019, shouldn’t we use the most scientific methods to manage the forests?” Kaplan asked.
“Yes, within the contract obligations,” Levesque said.
Kaplan noted that as early as 1966, state forest management plans began placing greater emphasis on environmental and wildlife concerns, and those concerns were repeated in documents in 1973, 1984, 1990 and beyond. By 1973, the management plan included terms like “balanced management program” and that timber production was a “primary goal,” but due consideration should be given to other uses as well.
By 1997, when the proposed revision of the “greatest permanent value” rule was being researched by the Board of Forestry, Kaplan said several county commissioners supported the state’s proposal. They included commissioners from Tillamook, Benton, Lane, Washington, Clatsop, Lincoln and Clackamas counties.
Their comments included the belief that ignoring the other values would be “short-sighted, unacceptable,” and that “timber should have an equal stand, but not be the primary” purpose.
Some pointed to the need for improved salmon habitat and Lane County Commissioner Peter Sorenson noted the state forests “should not be relegated to tree farms.”
But under re-direct examination by DiLorenzo, Levesque said those comments were of the individual commissioners and did not represent the majority of commissioners representing the counties.
He added that Tillamook County commissioners were told that one of the management options being proposed would include an annual timber harvest of some 279 million board feet and the option that was actually approved by the Board of Forestry in 1998 cut that number in half.
Kaplan asked Levesque why he did not talk more about the impact of World War II on Oregon’s timber sales and Levesque said he was trying to edit his presentation for the benefit of the jurors.
Levesque said that the heightened need for wood products to feed the war effort — for ships, barracks, plans and more plus improved technology — made it profitable for logging companies to go back into cut-over timber lands and salvage more logs.
“Both the price of timber and land values went up,” Levesque said.
Kaplan also asked Levesque about an agreement Tillamook County made that emphasized development of parks.
Levesque said that concerned about 12,000 acres out of some 350,000 total acres. Those lands, he said, were dedicated for recreation purposes when they were deeded.
Chet Orloff, former executive director of the Oregon Historical Society and a university professor, took the witness stand late Tuesday. His testimony will continue when the trial resumes at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.