As Aid Dries Up, Some Oregon Counties Glad To Be Off ‘The Federal Dole’

Note:  This article, published Dec. 21st, comes from OPB, Oregon Public Broadcasting.  If the press offers a feather in the wind showing which way the wind is blowing, then it would seem that SRS may have breathed its final breath.

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A contractor sorts logs on Oregon Board of Forestry land (Image source:  Oregon Board of Forestry)

For 15 years, Congress wrote more than $3 billion in subsidy checks to Oregon counties that had experienced big drops in federal timber harvests.

That program stopped earlier this year.

But many county officials are actually not so sad the federal help expired.

Timber once drove the Oregon economy. In the 70s, the industry employed as many as 80,000 workers. In many western Oregon timber communities, local government operated largely on their share of the revenue from logging federal lands.

Then came one shock after another that slashed at jobs. A deep recession in the early 80s. More efficient mills. And in 1990, federal authorities listed the northern spotted owl as a threatened species. That led to dramatic reductions of timber harvests on public lands.

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New Stanford program tracks federal economic relationship to western states, counties

Says the subtitle to this article:  A team at Stanford created an interactive website to shed light on the money the federal government has paid to counties and states in the American West over time in turn for controlling parts of their lands.

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To this day the U.S. government owns almost half of the land in the American West.

That level of control has been debated ever since the government began acquiring the areas in the 19th century, with some Westerners resenting the vastness of the federal authority, which amounts to 47 percent of land in 11 states. Some states, like Nevada, where the government owns 84.5 percent of the land, see more control than others.

But few know about the existence and history of revenue-sharing programs, with some dating to 1906, through which the federal government has been compensating states and counties for lost tax revenue on the lands it controls.

Now, thanks to historian Joseph “Jay” Taylor’s research and a team at Stanford’s Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA), the history and geography of those programs are presented in Follow the Money: A Spatial History of In-Lieu Programs for Western Federal Lands, an interactive website that maps federal payments made to counties and states in the American West over the past 100 years.

“This project exposes material that’s never been published, let alone mapped before,” said Erik Steiner, co-director of Stanford’s Spatial History Project at CESTA.

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Forest management better than doing nothing

Editor’s note:  From today’s EAST OREGONIAN.  By Nick Smith and Lindsay Warness.

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In response to George Wuerthner’s Oct. 7 column, there are good reasons why there is broad support for active and collaborative management of our forests. It all comes down to a choice, and Mr. Wuerthner made his choice clear.

We can choose to manage our forests to protect and enhance the economic, social and environmental benefits they provide. We can choose to proactively help our forests adapt to drought, insect infestations and changing climate conditions, and use forest management tools such as timber harvest, thinning and prescribed fires to mitigate the impacts of catastrophic wildfire. Or, we can choose to do nothing and suffer the consequences of inaction.

Fortunately, more Americans are choosing active, science-based forest management over passive, “hands-off” management. Alarmed by conditions on the ground, more diverse stakeholders are coming together through local collaboratives to find consensus and develop solutions for forests in need of restoration.

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As forests decline, observers cite mismanagement

Editor’s note:  Nick Smith’s service circulated this article, from AgAlert, yesterday.

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(PHOTO CREDIT:  Jose Antonio Galloso, via flickr)

From state highways, foothill campgrounds and aerial surveys, it’s easy to see the catastrophic tree die-off in California forests. What isn’t as easily grasped is the scale of rapidly expanding tree mortality in the state’s 40 million acres of forestland—and what to do about it.

The U.S. Forest Service said in June that its survey showed more than 66 million trees, mostly pine species, have died in the southern Sierra Nevada alone, and more are dying. Forestry experts say the scale of the die-off is beyond anything ever observed. They attribute the tree mortality to four years of drought, bark beetle infestations, climate change and mismanagement.

“I’m afraid people are going to think the catastrophe we’re seeing in our forests today is just a natural cycle of drought and insect infestations, but there’s a lot more to this story,” Tuolumne County rancher Shaun Crook said. “What we have now is the culmination of 40 years of forest mismanagement that has led to these devastating conditions.”

Crook said if Sierra forests had been harvested in recent decades using sustainable-yield practices, they would not be as overgrown and would not be as vulnerable to drought, infestation and disease, which occur naturally.

(continue reading at source)

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The Wildfire Conundrum

Editor’s note:  Below, one of the items circulated in Nick Smith’s news service this morning.  From Jefferson Public Radio, JPR.  Thanks Nick!

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Last year was the most expensive wildfire season ever. Federal agencies alone spent more than $2 billion on suppressing fires in 2015 and an estimated 2,500 homes were lost. This trend has been on the rise since the mid-1990s and continues to pick up steam.

Is there any end in sight?

The wildfire conundrum is made up of a complex set of interrelated factors. But it boils down to three main parts: forests out of ecological balance from decades of fire suppression; sprawling development in the woods that requires expanded firefighting efforts; and the mounting impacts of climate change.

Getting a handle on those problems will require creative and focused attention on all three.

(continue reading at source)

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Nick Smith lays out forest health/wildfire crisis for THE HILL

Editor’s note:  Great job, Nick!

lone firefighter with truck

There’s been a lot of hand wringing lately among federal officials about American forests, climate change and the “new normal” of longer and unnaturally severe wildfire seasons.  Scientific evidence suggests climate change is contributing to profound ecological changes in our forests.  If policymakers are serious about mitigating these impacts and reducing carbon emissions, they should support efforts to actively manage our federal forests and reduce the size and severity of wildfires.
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Wildfire seasons are now on average 78 days longer than the 1970s, and there’s been a sevenfold increase in fires of 10,000 acres or more.  Carbon emissions are expected to increase by 50 percent by 2050, according to university and federal researchers.  This is not a new problem, as NASA estimates that carbon emissions from fires are up 240 percent across the American West since the 1980s.  One study estimates that fires in the U.S. release about 290 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.  Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of California found that wildfires can contribute a larger proportion of the carbon dioxide released in several western and southeastern states.
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Some believe SRS is a federal “Band-Aid”

Editor’s note:  This caught my eye, out of a Pennsylvania newspaper.  Note especially the article’s final paragraph, which offers a perspective on SRS I don’t think I’ve heard before — namely that it was the feds who were provided with some time to reform via SRS:

“Secure Rural Schools was never intended to be a long-term solution to the fact that the policies of the federal government are crippling the communities that house our national forests,” Hetrick said. “Instead, it was meant to provide time for the federal government to seek solutions to the problems being caused by their policies, which has not happened.”

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(IMAGE CREDIT:  Wikimedia Commons)

KANE — Claims made at last month’s McKean County Commissioners meeting by Bill Belitskus of Lantz Corners about the U.S. Forest Service’s Secure Rural Schools program as a higher yield alternative to the 25 percent payments municipalities receive through the 1908 Good Neighbor Compact caused a ruckus in area forestry circles, but were those’ claims unfounded?

At last month’s meeting, Belitskus stated Hamlin Township lost $230,000 by selecting to receive 25 percent payments instead of choosing Secure Rural Schools. He claimed Forest County received $1.3 million by opting for Secure Rural Schools — the approximate same amount Elk, McKean and Warren counties had combined using the 25 percent payments.

(continue reading at source)

 

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Environmentalism without romance

Editor’s note:  Shawn Regan, at PERC (the “Property and Environment Research Center”), has written a useful essay on the concept of ecological environmentalism in the latest issue of PERC Reports.  Good reading for a Saturday morning.

George Perkins Marsh

George Perkins Marsh (IMAGE CREDIT:  Wikimedia Commons)

In 1986, James Buchanan won the Nobel Prize in economics for changing the way we think about politics. Buchanan’s key insight was that economists should use the same methods to analyze political behavior as they do to understand economic behavior. He helped establish a new form of economic analysis known as public choice theory, which Buchanan described in just three words: “politics without romance.”

Public choice theory, Buchanan argued, “models the realities rather than the romance of political institutions.” Politicians, bureaucrats, and voters, like people engaging in everyday market exchanges, are motivated primarily by their own self-interest, rather than the public interest.

This was a simple insight, but it had important implications. There had long been a certain degree of romance in politics, even among economists. Politicians were modeled as selfless public servants promoting the public’s interests, rather than their own. Bureaucrats advanced their agencies’ missions, not their own budgets or authority. And voters sought to improve the public good, not to extract political favors for their personal benefit. By the time Buchanan was awarded the Nobel Prize, this idealized view of politics was no longer seen as a valid approach to economic analysis. “The romance is gone,” Buchanan said in 1979, “perhaps never to be regained.”

(continue reading at source)

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Oregon newspaper takes a swipe at forested counties

Editor’s note:  No, I’m not posting this editorial just to inflame Robin Stanley, thus prompting him to write a vigorous rebuttal and post it at this blog!  (In my own view, we have a useful rebuttal already available here — namely, in the form of the three-part “moral analysis” of federal payments I posted last year.)  My reason for posting this editorial is that it evidences very nicely, IMHO, the public education burden that still faces forested counties respecting their economic circumstances and well-being, and the importance to them of much-needed reforms in forest management and reinvigorated timber harvests in our national forests.  If a newspaper in timber-rich Oregon is inclined to take this sort of swipe at forested counties, then one can only imagine what attitudes must be like in, say, Kansas or Ohio.  Nick Smith’s great news service tipped me to this editorial’s existence this morning.  Thanks, as always, Nick!

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(IMAGE CREDIT:  Google Images)

Oregon’s secretary of state performs biennial audits of the financial condition of the state’s 36 county governments, and the latest report is generally good: Four counties were found to be “at high risk of distress,” down from nine two years ago. A striking feature of the audit is that it shows how widely Oregon counties vary in economic and financial respects — and it suggests that the counties facing the worst financial struggles, including Lane, may find little sympathy in many parts of Oregon.

Lane County is one of the five that was removed from the high-risk category, Those remaining are Curry, Douglas, Josephine and Polk. Among the things the troubled counties have in common is low property tax rates — 59 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in Josephine County, 60 cents in Curry, $1.11 in Douglas and $1.72 in Polk. Lane County’s rate is $1.28, tied with Deschutes County for sixth-lowest in the state, less than half the statewide average of $2.82.

(continue reading at source)

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Sierra Nevada forests in bad shape

Editor’s note:  This story comes to us from NPR radio station KCBX out of San Luis Obispo, California, published online on June 12, 2016.

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Tree mortality in Kings Canyon National Park (PHOTO CREDIT:  Sierra Nevada Conservancy)

In search of solutions to the extreme threat to California’s forests and watersheds, correspondent Tom Wilmer met with Bob Kingman, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy’s Assistant Executive Officer in Auburn, California. He then visits with Sean O’Brien in San Luis Obispo about urban forested Monterey Pines in conjunction with Cal Fire in Cambria.

More than 60 percent of California’s water supply comes from the Sierras. High-intensity fires such as The 2013 Rim Fire generated greenhouse gas emissions equal to what 2.3 million vehicles produce annually. During the rainy season, the subsequent massive run off and erosion created in-filled reservoirs, and severely degraded water quality.

Sean and Dana O’Brien in San Luis Obispo are sequestering carbon, and helping to minimize the threat of forest fires through their urban-forested Pacific Coast Lumber mill operation, and A Place to Grow Recycled Greenhouses. The O’Briens work in concert with Cal Fire’s efforts to remove dead and dying Monterey Pines in and around the coastal village of Cambria, California.

(continue reading at source)

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