The 15 Oregon forest trust land counties could have benefited from the sale of 3.1 billion more board feet of timber than was sold by the Oregon Department of Forestry between 2004 and 2019.
That's according to Mark Rasmussen, a partner at the Portland consulting firm Mason, Bruce & Girard Inc., who testified Monday and Tuesday during a $1.4 billion breach of contract lawsuit at Linn County Circuit Court.
In the suit, 14 of the 15 forest trust counties and 151 taxing districts charge that the Department of Forestry has not harvested as much timber as it could have since new management plans were approved in 1998.
From the 1930s to 1960s, the counties deeded more than 600,000 acres of land to the state to develop state forests. In return, those counties were to receive about two-thirds of every dollar generated by sales of timber from those lands, based on a 1941 state statute that called for the lands to managed for the "greatest permanent value."
According to Rasmussen, the state could have harvested more than 7 billion board feet of timber on a sustainable basis, but actually harvested 3.9 billion board feet. A board foot is a board 12 inches wide, 12 inches long and 1 inch thick. A truckload of logs amounts to about 4,000 board feet, Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen’s firm has completed numerous projects encompassing millions of acres of land, both private and public, in Oregon, California, Washington and Idaho, as well as in other states. He has been appointed to the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers by three governors.
He said he sat upon what he called a Harvest and Habitat Committee, which looked at four alternatives to setting timber harvests and various levels of wildlife habitat development. Their report to the state was issued in 2006.
For the trial he was asked to talk about what he said was a maximum harvest level of timber, but projected for sustainability over 150 years. He said habitat and environmental regulations based on the state’s Forest Management Practices Act were included in the modeling, but those assets were not given higher priorities than mandated by regulations.
Values such as recreation were also secondary to maximum timber harvesting in his modeling.
Rasmussen said other alternatives included timber management if the state had a habitat conservation plan in place (a federal process that allows timber harvesting and shields those involved from being held liable if an endangered animal was harmed); timber harvests without such a plan; and a “reserve” alternative in which the Oregon Department of Forestry managed the lands to develop old-growth traits and improve wildlife habitat for species such as the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet as the priority. That habitat could encompass as much as 50% of the forests.
Rasmussen said harvest rotations vary by state. Oregon’s private landowners may harvest trees on a 40-year rotation, since Oregon has soils and weather conducive to tree growth. In other states, harvest rotations may be 70 years or more, he said.
Earlier in the trial, witnesses said a computer modeling of projected timber harvests for a 2001 report was based on inaccurate data. Rasmussen said more accurate data — provided by district foresters — was used to create the 2006 report, in which he participated. That data was incorporated in a 2010 Forest Management Plan.
In developing his projections, Rasmussen said he tried to be conservative and reduced potential “should have” harvests by 5%.
During cross-examination on Tuesday, state’s attorney Scott Kaplan asked Rasmussen if all 15 forest trust counties were members of the lawsuit. Rasmussen said Clatsop County is not participating. About a dozen taxing districts also chose to opt out; 151 taxing districts are participating, including several in Clatsop County, which has 154,000 acres of state forests in its boundaries, about one-quarter of the total state forest lands.
Kaplan asked Rasmussen if the alternative that emphasized wood emphasis put a higher value on revenues to counties, but failed to maximize the values of clean water, native wildlife and outdoor recreation.
Rasmussen said his assignment for the trial was to determine the difference between what the Oregon Department of Forestry “should have” harvested and what actually was. As for the clean water issue, those factors are mandated by the Forest Practices Act, which was included in the modeling data, he said.
Kaplan also asked Rasmussen — whose firm has had consulting contracts with the Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon State University and Department of Transportation — if he had a conflict of interest being a paid witness. Rasmussen said he did not, nor has he been pressured to skew data in favor of the class action members.
“I have the highest respect for the Department of Forestry,” he said.
Rasmussen agreed with Kaplan that there are intangibles in forest management that can’t be built into a long-term modeling, such as fires, economic recessions and outbreaks of disease or pests.
Kaplan asked Rasmussen if there was a way to incorporate the effects of the greatest permanent value rule into the computer modeling. Rasmussen replied that there wasn’t: “You need something to drive a solution, you need weighted goals to start with.”
Richard La Mont, owner of Timberland Appraisal in Corvallis, began testimony late Tuesday. He is expected to put a monetary value on the timber harvest data Rasmussen provided to the court. He will take the stand at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday before Judge Thomas McHill.