Timber Payments Disappointingly Low

timberOver the last four years Oregon counties have received less and less funding from federal timber payments. For counties like Benton, this is not the end of the world—due in part to population, taxable property, property value, and in some cases careful forward planning. However, not all counties were created equally and some rely more heavily on the federal subsidies.

The issue of federal timber payments arose during the 1990s when spotted owl protection coupled with economic changes led to a rapid decline in logging livelihoods. To lessen the blow in Oregon counties and other affected states, the federal government opted to offer payments.

This year combined BLM and Forest Service federal timber payments to Oregon counties will dip below $100 million. While this is the lowest yet, there has been a steady decrease over the last four years.

According to a 2016 Secretary of State Audit report, Benton County receives 2.2% of its Governmental Fund revenue from federal BLM timber payments and 0.3% from federal forest service timber payments. This is good compared to Douglas County which receives 15.5% and 10.8% of its revenue from respective timber payments.

Douglas County has cut service costs and reduced staff by 30% over the last 10 years. It now relies on reserve funds to maintain critical public safety services. One problem facing the county is property tax. About half of Douglas County’s 5,071 square miles is public land and therefore not taxable.

Timber payments are based on property that is not taxable like federally owned forest land and the reduction in logging on federally owned forest land. This funding includes payments specifically for services like schools and road maintenance and unrestricted payments to bolster the counties’ General Fund.

By Anthony Vitale