In March of 2016, Linn County filed a lawsuit against the state of Oregon for $1.4 billion over “mismanagement” of our state forests. It was immediately obvious that the process to find a lasting, balanced Forest Management Plan would be severely disrupted. Some of our coalition members attempted to intervene on behalf of the state, arguing that state forests should be managed for multiple values, not just timber production. Documents later released made clear that private timber companies and a lobbying firm had concocted and funded the lawsuit.
Linn County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Murphy granted class action status to the dubious lawsuit. Counties that do not want to see our state forests turned into industrial tree farms had the opportunity to opt out of the lawsuit. Beginning in October of 2016, huge efforts were made in a number of counties to get county leaders to opt out of the suit. Hundreds spoke out at public hearings and commissioners’ meetings asking their county leaders to do the right thing. In Benton County, Tillamook County, Clatsop County, and Washington County, the public message was clear: “opt out!” The Daily Astorian, Forest Grove News-Times, and Beaverton Valley Times all urged leaders to opt out. Well done to everyone involved! We raised this issue publicly and in the media and held our elected leaders accountable for their decisions.
UPDATE: On June 20, 2017, Judge Murphy reversed an earlier decision and has now ruled that the State of Oregon has sovereign immunity from the alleged “breach of statutory contract” claim that Linn County was pressing in the case. This is a major blow to the lawsuit and welcome news!
Clatsop County, which generates more state forest timber revenue than any other county, led the way by voting 3-2 to opt out. There was a magnificent display of public testimony and letters in the Daily Astorian over several months that ultimately led to a very poignant statement by Clatsop County Commissioner, Scott Lee. Commissioners Kathleen Sullivan and Sarah Nebeker joined Commissioner Lee, while Commissioners Lisa Clement and Lianne Thompson voted to stay in. You can contact the Clatsop County commissioners here.
In Benton County, there was a very well-attended public hearing at which citizens weighed-in on both sides. Most “opt in” arguments were made by timber industry representatives. There were also a large number of “opt out” letters sent to commissioners. Unfortunately, commissioners Xan Augerot and Anne Schuster ultimately voted to stay in the lawsuit – an immensely disappointing outcome for constituents who trusted them to do the right thing. After the decision, Commissioner Augerot alluded to an “erosion” of funds coming from state forests over the year. This claim runs entirely contrary to fact. Commissioner Annabelle Jaramillo, who has extensive experience working on state forests, voted to opt out. You can contact the Benton County commissioners here.
All three Tillamook County commissioners voted preemptively to stay in the lawsuit, probably hoping that there would be no further discussion. However, they were in for a surprise when constituents showed up at several public hearings demanding that the commissioners explain themselves. While the commissioners ignored the overwhelming call to opt out, they were appropriately grilled. You can contact the Tillamook County commissioners here.
Washington County did not even offer citizens an opportunity to comment on the lawsuit publicly. At one commissioners meeting, over 30 constituents came to testify on the lawsuit. Chair Andy Duyck allowed only 5 people the opportunity to comment, including an Oregon Farm Bureau lobbyist from Salem. This affront to public process was dubbed a “missed opportunity” and an “error” by the local paper. Citizens should remember being frozen out of this important decision. To their credit, commissioners Dick Schouten and Greg Malinowski argued eloquently to opt out of the lawsuit. Chair Duyck and commissioner Bob Terry voted to stay in. Commissioner Roy Rogers recused himself. You can contact the Washington County commissioners here.
Clackamas County heard public comment on the lawsuit and had a robust discussion about the decision. The commissioners ultimately chose to stay in the lawsuit, but made comments about wanting to manage the forest for multiple uses. You can contact the Clackamas County commissioners here.
Several other taxing districts followed Clatsop County’s lead in opting out.
An immense thank you to all who spent time on this critical issue. This lawsuit now moves on to the court room, where conservation and fishing groups have tried to intervene. This promises to be a long and drawn-out legal battle.
Materials related to the North Coast State Forest Coalition’s request that taxing districts opt out of the Linn County lawsuit:
Fee to County/Timber Lawyers: The $210 million figure comes by multiplying the county/timber lawyers’ percentage of a settlement (15%) by the claim of $1.4 billion. See it on page 3 of this disclosed document.
Third-party science review of the industrial timber approach that Linn County argues is mandated for state forests. The industrial timber approach is modeled as the “Timber Harvest Optimization” (THO) alternative. See series of tables (4-4 to 4-10) for estimates of direction of magnitude on many indicators.