Friday, February 3, 2012

Set In Stone: Oregon's Timber Subsidies Coming To An End

The WSJ reports on the coming end of subsidies paid to Oregon communities that were once part of hte thriving timber industry, but then found themselves on the losing end of an astro-turfed Green campaign to protect supposedly endangered species. The subsidies were supposed to compensate for the loss of real blue collar jobs, I guess, by buying the economically ravaged off with transfer payments. Now, the payments are going the way of the dodo (but not the spotted owl!)

The issue dates to the 1937 federal Oregon & California Lands Act, which said half of all timber sales from federal land in Oregon would go to 18 so-called O&C counties. With harvests across millions of acres, forest counties thrived here. Many Oregon counties—including Curry County—kept property taxes low, thanks to timber royalties. 
That changed in the 1980s, with the rise of the environmental movement and a sharp fall in federal timber harvests. To compensate communities in Oregon, the state where logging relies most on public land, Congress in 2000 began authorizing payments under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act. Those funds were set to expire in 2006 and, though twice extended, the payments can't be renewed now without Congress's assent. 
That is something locals doubt will happen, given the nation's budget woes and the partisan cast of an election year. 
Outside Oregon, the decades of federal timber payments can seem like the epitome of wasteful pork spending. Oregonians see things differently, arguing that as long as federal rules hamstring profitable forest harvests, federal dollars should mitigate the pain.

It's actually amazing to see a government subsidy come to an end on schedule, but note that while the subsidy for jobs lost due to government fiat is coming to an end, the "environmental concerns" that are the cause of the subsidy are inviolate. 

The human cost here has been met with little more than a Green shrug and some welfare payments. But, if  president Romney (or whomever) tried to re-examine the issue of whether millions of acres of timberland should be idled for the questionable sake of some animals, watch out. 

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