O&C Lands Act: 5 Numbers You Need to Know

In February, the Senate Energy Committee held a hearing on Sen. Ron Wyden’s proposed O&C Lands Act, which would double timber harvests in Oregon’s O&C forests and bring desperately-needed jobs and revenue to struggling rural counties in southern Oregon. You can get the full scoop by watching four hours of Congressional testimony and reading the 188-page bill cover-to-cover, or you can scroll down for my five-bullet breakdown of what the proposal would mean for southern Oregon’s economy and environment.

I didn’t doubt your loyalty for a second. Now on to the numbers:

11 – The Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI) estimates that 11 jobs are “created or retained” for each one million board feet of timber harvested. Citing this figure, Sen. Wyden claims that the O&C Act would “create the potential for about 1,650 new jobs in O&C counties.”

But Wyden’s math seems somewhat dubious, since the OFRI lumps both job creation and retention into its 11-jobs-per-million-board-feet estimate. (Wyden treats the multiplier as if it only refers to creation of new jobs.) In reality, it’s reasonable to expect that some timber-related sectors, such as forest service and management, will not continue adding jobs at a constant rate as timber harvests increase. I believe “economies of scale” is the scientific term for this phenomenon. The good folks at Wikipedia explain.

300 million – Well, 300 to 350 million if you want to be picky. Under the O&C  Act, that’s approximately how many board feet of timber would be harvested per year for the next 20 years on O&C Lands. To put that figure in context, the average harvest over the last 10 years has been about 150 million board feet, while the average harvest between 1959 and 1989 was 1.1 billion board feet.

$3,939,590 – The legislation would provide Josephine County with average annual revenue of $3,939,590 from federal timber sales over the next decade, according to a report by Headwaters Economics. This estimate is based on the assumption that it would take up to 10 years for harvests to reach the 300 million board feet level targeted by Wyden’s bill. If so, annual revenue would start near $2 million before approaching $6 million at the 10-year mark.

It’s also worth noting that these projections don’t represent entirely new revenue. Even at current O&C harvest levels (~150 million board feet per year), Josephine County receives more than $1.8 million annually from the federal government. The O&C Lands Act would gradually boost this figure, but its immediate economic impact in southern Oregon would be minimal.

120 – The O&C Act features a number of environmental safeguards, including a provision that protects moist-forest stands currently over 120 years old and individual trees over 150 years old.

24.6% – Even if the bill passes in its current form, Josephine County’s average annual timber revenue over the next 10 years ($3,939,590) would be 24.6% less than what the county received in 2012 under the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) Act ($5,227,953), according to the Headwaters report.

Last October, Congress passed a one-year extension of the SRS Act, which will provide about $1.5 million to Josephine County when payments are released later this month. But even lawmakers admit that these one-time funds are not a sustainable solution to the region’s economic woes.

 

 

Rogue Territory Blog: An Introduction

In late August 2012, a southern Oregon woman made an emergency 9-1-1 call, pleading for help as her violent ex-boyfriend pounded on the door and windows. The harrowing scene that followed could pass as a horror-film plot twist. “We don’t have anybody to send out there,” the dispatcher replied. Minutes later, the caller became a victim of assault.

First reported by NPR last May, the story epitomizes the public safety crisis facing rural residents across cash-strapped Josephine County, where unemployment is hovering near 10 percent and funding for public safety has dropped 63 percent in the last three years. The budget cuts have left the county sheriff’s department without enough deputies to respond to emergency calls around the clock. When state police are unavailable to fill the void, distressed residents must fend for themselves.

In future posts I’ll provide a more complete account of Josephine County’s budgetary tailspin, but here’s a quick rundown: in 2007, the expiration of the Secure Rural School Act brought an end to seven years of steady revenues for timber-rich counties in southern and central Oregon. Congress managed to maintain some of the subsidies through short-term, stopgap measures, but the federal money spigot quickly slowed to a trickle. In Josephine County alone, SRS revenues fell from a peak of $14 million in 2007-08 to just $5.1 million in 2012-13.

This belt-tightening has been compounded by low property tax rates across southern Oregon. At $0.59 per $1000 of assessed value, Josephine County’s rate is the lowest in the state—and less than a quarter of the state average ($2.47). Its voters also rejected ballot measures in 2007, 2012, and 2013 that would have used temporary tax levies as a means to maintain critical public safety and criminal justice services.

Despite a flurry of national media attention  last summer, the county’s struggles have only continued to deepen, with a dangerous drug problem among the latest crime waves to plague the region. The purpose of this blog is to provide readers with ongoing coverage of the crisis in Josephine County and detailed analysis of its political, economic, and legal components. My upcoming posts will address the progress of Sen. Ron Wyden’s O&C Lands Act in Congress, the history of timber subsidies in Oregon counties, the shifting demographics of Josephine County’s population, and much more.

If you have comments, questions, or suggestions for future stories, please contact me at bdejarne@uoregon.edu.

In Rural Southern Oregon, Josephine County’s Public Safety Crisis