Oregon Appeals Court Overturns Huge State Forest Verdict
A $1.1 billion verdict against Oregon over state forest management has been overturned by an appeals court, but timber counties are expected to ask the state Supreme Court to take up the case.
According to The Oregonian, the Department of Forestry and its oversight board “are not obligated to maximize timber harvests and associated payments to counties where the forests are located.”
More than a dozen largely rural counties have argued that pre-World War II acts transferring timberlands to Oregon were essentially a contract and that recent years’ reduced logging and thus lower revenues from timber sales breached state law.
The Capital Press reported counties essentially acknowledged the state can change its forest practices but that it also must compensate them for that loss. Timber sales are an important revenue base for local jurisdictions.
The bulk of Oregon’s state forests are in Clatsop and Tillamook Counties, but there are also patches in Columbia, Washington, Polk, Lincoln, Benton, Clackamas, Marion, Linn, Lane, Klamath and other counties.
The case was originally brought in 2016 by Linn County and was tried by a jury, which sided with the counties and awarded $1 billion for past and future losses. But today, the state Court of Appeals said the trial court “erred in denying” a state motion to dismiss the case, as those 80-plus-year-old acts did not represent contracts, and as such reversed and remanded it.
The Oregonian termed that decision “a major victory for the state” and reported it means DOF has “the discretion to manage state forests for multiple uses including clean water, wildlife protection and recreation.”
Indeed, it could be a big win for fish, wildlife and conservation, if the Supreme Court denies an appeal from counties, which believe they have no other option but to go to the highest judges in the state.
“Today’s decision by the Oregon Court of Appeals is a validation of the fact that a balanced, science-based approach to public forest management will produce the greatest long-term outcomes for all Oregonians, including the counties and taxing districts that receive revenue from state forests,” Governor Kate Brown told The Oregonian via email. “Working together, I am confident the state and the counties can find a sustainable approach to supporting critical services for Oregonians.”