FAQ

This collection of frequently asked questions (FAQ) provides brief answers to many common questions about the O&C Lands.  It also provides links to more detailed information available from this web site.  If you have additional questions that haven’t been answered here, please submit your enquiry on the Contact Us page and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Nestled throughout western Oregon are 2.8 million acres of federal lands – commonly referred to as O&C lands – rich with biodiversity and fraught with management challenges.  These lands are some of the most unique landscapes in the world, harboring many distinct plant communities—temperate rain forests, ancient conifer forests, oak forests and savannas—including more than 300 plant species found nowhere else on Earth and providing a home to a variety of endangered species, including wild salmon, steelhead, spotted owls and marbled murrelets.  At the same time, the ancient trees that once graced these lands were the economic backbone of many rural communities, and as such, for decades these lands have fallen into the all-too-familiar debate between species protection and timber production. 

In 1866, Congress established a land-grant program to the Oregon & California (O&C) Railroad Company for the completion of the rail line between Portland and San Francisco.  The grant required the company to sell the deeded land to settlers.  Forty years later, when the company failed to meet the terms of the agreement fully, the federal government, through the 1937 Oregon and California Revested Lands Sustained Yield Management Act (O&C Act), reclaimed these mostly forested lands.  Today, these O&C lands are administered by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

Through the late 1980s, during the height of logging in the Pacific Northwest, intensive cutting liquidated many vulnerable and valuable stands of old-growth habitat on O&C lands.  Yet despite decades of timber harvest, the 2.8 million acres still harbor some of the best old-growth habitat in the western United States.  In fact, more than 800,000 acres of the O&C landscape consists of trees older than 120 years and some of the stands in the O&C landscape have towered over the state for more than 300 years.  And now the political climate has created an opportunity to protect major portions of these special places.  Now is the time to protect many of these special places once and for all for our clean drinking water supplies, our wild salmon and our future generations. 

Thanks to the myriad micro-climates throughout Western Oregon, the O&C lands include temperate rainforests, dry pine forests, oak savannas, forests over 300 years old, and alpine grasslands, making this one of the most biologically diverse landscapes in the United States.  The area is home to a variety of native species dependent upon ancient forests and clean, cold water these stands of trees protect.  The rivers that run through these lands provide almost 2 million Oregonians – in both rural and urban areas – with their clean drinking water.  The lands and rivers provide economic resources for the rural communities and recreational opportunities for all.  In short, these lands and rivers are central to our Oregon way of life.  As Headwaters Economics’ November 2012 report, West is Best, also illustrates, these lands and rivers are also economic assets well beyond the value of any commercial timber that might be harvested from them.  They help draw new employers to the region and the uniquely skilled people they require. 

No.  Prior to the development of Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) in 1994, the timber production off the O&C lands produced large revenues for the so-called O&C counties.  Counties became dependent upon this revenue source and when it became clear that application of the NWFP would  result in significantly less timber revenues for these counties, a short-term legislative “fix” was crafted that slowly decreased county revenues.  Most counties did not make the necessary budget changes, hoping instead for further timber revenues, and Oregon’s tax structure made certain tax changes more difficult for these counties.  As a result, many O&C counties have found themselves in financial trouble, with some likely to go insolvent in the next year if additional funding is not secured.  

But, these lands provide economic income to the surrounding counties and to the state as a whole.  Throughout the state, fishing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, hiking, hunting and other recreation contribute more than $12.8 billion annually to the economy and support more than 141,000 jobs.

Though recognized for their ecological and economic value, many of these public lands lack permanent protection. Federal laws can be used to protect some of these areas, but for others, new laws and administrative action will be necessary to ensure their protection for future generations.  The Coalition for Our O&C Lands advocates the continued operation of our federal environmental laws while at the same time providing additional protection for six different types of lands and waters within the O&C landscapes. 

Specifically, and because of the varied nature of the O&C landscape, we are proposing several different policy tools to provide the comprehensive protections for which we are advocating.  They include Wilderness designations, Wild and Scenic Rivers designations, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (stitched together into what would be known as the Oregon Conservation Network), late-successional old growth, legislative protection for other core conservation protections under the Northwest Forest Plan (e.g., the Aquatic Conservation Strategy and the Key watersheds) and a new federal designation known as National Watershed Collaborative Conservation Zones (i.e., areas where federal lands would need to be managed for the ecological values in those areas and private lands would be prioritized for conservation funding and land swaps).  For more information on the specific protections, please see the Learn More page.

Yes.  The wild rivers that run through the O&C lands provide more than 1.8 million Oregonians – in both rural and urban communities – with their clean drinking water.  If these lands were clearcut, it would deprive Oregonians of natural clean drinking water sources and cost the state millions of dollars in secondary treatment facilities.

Yes.  First, these lands provide for fishing, hiking, boating, and other recreational activities.   Throughout the state, these activities contribute more than $12.8 billion annually to the economy and support more than 141,000 jobs. In the Wild Rogue River Basin alone, the salmon and steelhead fisheries generate about $20 million annually in commercial and recreational activity.    Second, these lands provide natural clean drinking resources for more 1.8 million Oregonians, saving the state millions of dollars in secondary water treatment facilities.  Protecting these areas will help re-establish and support these rural communities while diversifying their economic base.

For three months last winter, Governor Kitzhaber brought together a group of county commissioners, timber industry executives, and conservation leaders in an attempt to formulate a management regime for the approximately 2.8 million acres of O&C land (both Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service).[1] The governor’s panel explored a wide range of issues and options, but ultimately was not able to agree on a final proposal.  A report from that task force can be found at [link to Governor’s report].

[1] Principal participants included county commissioners Doug Robertson (Douglas), Simon Hare (Josephine), Jamie Damon (former-Clackamas), and Tony Hyde (Columbia); timber industry executives Alan Ford (Roseburg Forest Products), Ray Jones (Stimson Lumber), Dale Riddle (Seneca Sawmill) and Jennifer Phillipe (Rough and Ready Lumber); conservationists Sybil Ackerman (Sybil Ackerman Strategies), John Kober (Pacific Rivers Council), Greg Block (Wild Salmon Center), Jack Williams (Trout Unlimited), Bob Davison (Defenders of Wildlife), and David Dreher (The Pew Charitable Trusts). 

Currently, Members of Congress and administrative agencies are discussing a means for addressing this decades old debate.  The near economic failure of some Oregon counties is pushing the political machinery to find a solution to this ongoing issue.  But this is a complex, multi-dimensional problem that can no longer be simply solved with more timber supply.  For one thing, further protections will likely draw new companies and employees from new industries and new residents to these communities (see Headwaters Economics’ report, West is Best).  For another, more intense global competition in forest products and continued labor saving technological innovations will continue to reduce the demand for employees.  Some have suggested a near 700% increase in timber harvest, clear-cutting almost 60% of the landscape, in order to provide revenue to these failing counties. The Coalition for Our O&C Lands believes that there is a more balanced and responsible approach to this issue and is supporting the protection of these special lands.  We need to let our Congressional members know how important these lands are and ask them to protect them to ensure our clean drinking water sources, wild salmon in our rivers, and wild places for our children and grandchildren to treasure for generations to come.

The Pew Charitable Trust recently commissioned a bipartisan statewide poll of likely voters in Oregon on the O&C lands issue.  The results are telling. Voters, both statewide and in the target counties[1], believe that “protecting old growth forests, bodies of water, and the wildlife that live there” is the top priority. When asked to prioritize timber jobs and revenue for counties with protections for clean water, ancient forests, and wildlife, a solid majority of Oregon voters said that protection for land and water is most important to them.  Click here to find out more about the poll.

[1] The poll oversampled four Oregon counties—Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, and Lane Counties—that contain large pieces of O&C lands and are in serious financial straits due to a lack of revenue from timber harvest. These four counties are identified as “target counties” in the poll results.

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