OR faces reduction in timber money

Trees in the Mt. Hood National Forest outside Zigzag, Ore. A U.S. Forest Service program that infused rural communities with millions to make up for lost timber revenue is drying up; for Oregon, the reduction would be particularly severe, dropping the 2015 payment of $86.4 million to $7 million, according to an analysis by the National Association of Counties.

AP file photo/Rick Bowmer
Trees in the Mt. Hood National Forest outside Zigzag, Ore. A U.S. Forest Service program that infused rural communities with millions to make up for lost timber revenue is drying up; for Oregon, the reduction would be particularly severe, dropping the 2015 payment of $86.4 million to $7 million, according to an analysis by the National Association of Counties.

SALEM (AP) — A U.S. Forest Service program that infused rural communities with millions to make up for lost timber revenue is drying up, and that means Oregon will see a 90 percent reduction in the payments that have kept critical services afloat in many counties since environmental rules curtailed logging nearly 30 years ago.

The Salem Statesman Journal reported Friday that the changes will impact more than 700 counties and 4,000 school districts in 41 states.

The Secure Rural Schools program was enacted in 2000 to help ease the financial blow after a dramatic reduction in logging in the 1990s.

But the program has not been reauthorized and payments going forward will revert to a 1908 law that dedicates 25 percent of timber revenues to local governments.

For Oregon, the reduction would be particularly severe, dropping the 2015 payment of $86.4 million to $7 million, according to an analysis by the National Association of Counties. Polk County would see payments almost completely dry up after a reduction from $782,406 to $318.

For Marion County, the reduction would be from $1.8 million to $186,880, an 89.8 percent reduction. About 25 percent of Marion County, and 26.4 percent of the state of Oregon, is Forest Service land.

The law had provided gradually reduced payments since 2012 and was authorized a final time at $285 million in April 2015 and expired six months later.

Payments to counties at the previous 25 percent level will start to be sent out in February, said Babete R. Anderson, the national press officer for the Forest Service.

"We are working through the steps required to process the 25 percent fund payments expeditiously and anticipate making those payments by the middle of February," she said.

The National Association of Counties is trying to drum up support for reauthorizing the program — and some Western lawmakers are listening.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, was a co-author of the 2000 bill and is working with Sen. Mike Crapo and Sen. James Risch, both Idaho Republicans, to craft a solution and called the money a "lifeline for rural counties" in a recent statement.

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