Counties that are financially dependent on federal timber harvest revenues got some welcome news Monday. Senator Ron Wyden refined his congressional strategy a little and got the federal spigots open again for cash strapped Josephine, Curry, Douglas and Lane Counties. Josephine County will receive $1.5 million, Curry $2.2 million, Douglas $8.5 million, Lane $10.3 million and Lincoln County will get about $1.4 million. But keep in mind that these are road and schools monies so they’re aimed at specific issues. But still the rural counties will be better supported for as long as Wyden and the Congress keeps the money flowing. And there’s no telling – year to year – whether it will keep coming. That’s because timber harvests are down, so the federal government, in effect, is just writing welfare checks for those counties in distress. Many in Congress find it hard to vote for such programs when local property taxes are so low – some coming in at a third or a quarter of what residents pay in other Oregon counties.
Last year, Josephine, Curry and Douglas Counties were just about down for the count on revenues – sparking debate whether the three should just pack it in and merge all three counties together since their populations are relatively small. By merging the three they could trim government costs by having a single government entity. And it might work for a while. However, with the continued influx of retirees from California, drawn by the southwestern counties’ rock bottom property taxes, demands for services would likely keep rising, wiping out whatever savings might be produced by the government mergers.
But for now they’re breathing easier.
And it comes just in time. Areas of Douglas, Curry and Josephine Counties are often down to the kindness of Oregon State Police Troopers who are frequently the only patrol cars on the road. Troopers are supposed to provide mainly traffic enforcement and back-up support for local departments in cities and counties. But lately they’ve wound up being the only law gun for miles around. So the additional O&C cash will definitely help. But there is no long term solution on the horizon for these and other counties that have seen their timber harvest dwindle over the years over concerns about endangered species, stream zone protection for fish spawning, general water quality and preventing soil erosion.
Senator Wyden has been talking a lot lately about thinning Oregon’s forests – not clear cutting them – thinning. By leaving a lot of trees behind, those remaining can better compete for sunlight and soil nutrients and thereby can be expected to grow faster.
But of course the devil’s in the details and it seems to be boiling down to which forests and how many trees to leave behind. The details are far from worked out.