It's really no surprise to read an editorial from a Republican County Commissioner, representing Republican Tillamook County, expressing support for a Republican-led lawsuit that was victorious in front of a jury in Republican-heavy Linn County ("Suit Fairly Compensates Counties," David Yamamoto, Jan. 2). After all, Donald Trump’s GOP believes climate change is a hoax, and they will do whatever it takes to ensure we do not address — or even recognize — the threat of climate change.
What is surprising is that the majority of our own Benton County commissioners — including current Commissioner Augerot — joined a lawsuit that, should it prevail on appeal, will result in a $1.1 billion hole in K-12 education and other state funding and inflict serious damage to any serious efforts by Oregon to fight climate change.
This lawsuit to force Oregon to clear-cut more state forests is truly a testament to how insular and self-serving some local governments can be. When these counties sue the state for $1.1 billion, they are suing you and I, the taxpayer. So while Benton County government could see over $5 million in awards from this lawsuit, you and I, the Benton County taxpayers, will lose over $22 million in K-12, OSU, social services and other state funding. That’s a net loss of over $15.5 million to Benton County taxpayers.
Adding insult to injury, this lawsuit will also help to ensure that Oregon will fail to meet our CO2 targets and thus further exacerbate climate change. Yet another scientific study (“Carbon Sequestration and Biodiversity Co-benefits of Preserving Forests in the Western U.S.,” Buotte et al) was recently released that concludes Oregon and Washington’s forests hold incredible promise as a strategy to reverse CO2 pollution. Several studies published in the last two years reveal that our Oregon forests have the highest carbon sequestering potential of any forests on the planet.
But this Linn County timber lawsuit will take us in the opposite direction, forcing Oregon to clear-cut thousands more acres of these forests. With this lawsuit, these 14 Oregon counties are taking away our most potent tool in Oregon to fight climate change.
In his editorial, Tillamook Commissioner Yamamoto makes many false claims. Perhaps the most egregious is his claim that in its management of these state forests, Oregon has “prioritized going far above the mandates of the federal Endangered Species Act and directing funds to increasing recreational opportunities.” The fact is, the federal Endangered Species Act does not impact state forest management anywhere near the degree it does federal forests. This is precisely why our Oregon state forests are already being logged much more heavily than Oregon’s federal forests — a fact no one could legitimately argue against.
The possibility of a $1.1 billion hole in Oregon’s budget is a result that will draw wide opposition to this lawsuit. Education advocates and others concerned about the real possibility of deep cuts in programs impacting our children, our university students, our low-income families and our veterans will likely want to do what they can to make sure this lawsuit never sees the light of day.
Should this lawsuit actually succeed, Benton County taxpayers will lose a net $15.5 million. And what will you get in return? Accelerated climate destruction. This is a lawsuit crafted and paid for by Oregon’s timber industry. Whether your concern is K-12/higher ed funding, critical veterans programs, health care for low-income Oregonians, or our precious environment, it’s time we recognize that Oregon’s timber industry is prepared to harm all of the above to satisfy their voracious appetite for Oregon’s forests. We can only hope the legal merits of this case will be shot down in an Oregon appeals court where judges — and not a politicized jury — will rule.
Dave Toler of Corvallis is the founder of Advocates for Forest Carbon, a nonprofit organization that works for improved carbon sequestration in Oregon and Washington forests.