An Oregon county that claims the state mismanaged Oregon Forest Trust Lands and cost it and others millions of dollars in lost revenue for schools and public safety is threatening to file a class-action lawsuit seeking $1.4 billion. Linn County notified the governor and state forester of its plans to sue on behalf of 14 other counties over breach of contract. It says Oregon has failed to live up to decades-old contracts that allow counties to receive payments based on annual timber harvests on state-managed lands. The payments go toward local law enforcement, schools and other special county districts to help cover basic services.
“This breach of contract has had devastating effects on local communities that have seen both poverty and unemployment rates skyrocket in the last two decades as a result of current practices,” Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist said at a news conference.
Josh Laughlin, executive director of Cascadia Wildlands in Eugene, said the county’s claims lack merit and called the arrangement of clear-cutting forests to fund essential services archaic. “It appears the counties missed the memo that the state is not required to log to infinity in these state lands,” Laughlin said. “They also have a duty to protect clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and other values held closely by Oregonians.”
The state manages about 654,000 acres of Forest Trust Lands it purchased from the counties several decades ago. Linn County officials say a forest management plan adopted in 2001 emphasized improvements to fish and wildlife habitat and other conservation measures, which reduced logging and slashed timber revenue by half.
“We believe over time a delta has developed: the difference between what these lands could produce … versus the production that is occurring,” said John DiLorenzo, an attorney at the Portland law firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP who is representing Linn County. The price tag of that gap comes to $1.4 billion, including roughly $35 million in annual revenue owed since 2001, future damages of a similar amount and interest, according to DiLorenzo and county officials.