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BLM issues last timber payment to Oregon counties

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Linn and Benton counties have received their final share of so-called “county payments” under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.

Last week, the Bureau of Land Management issued payments totaling more than $40 million to 18 western Oregon counties. The payments were from the fiscal year that ended last September, according to Linn County Administrator Ralph Wyatt. In prior years, the BLM payments came in October.

“I would have preferred they had sent chainsaws,” said Roger Nyquist, chairman of the Linn County Board of Commissioners. “County payments in lieu of properly managing our federal forests in totality has not been a good deal for the citizens of Linn County. I definitely would like to see more timber cut.”

Because more than 50 percent of the land in Oregon is owned by the federal government, the state received a portion of timber revenues to help support government functions and schools. Timber harvests on federal lands began to decrease in the 1990s and Congress passed the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000.

Since then, 42 states have received annual payments based on a formula of shared revenues from years when there was more timber harvested from federal lands. In 2008, Oregon payments totaled more than $230 million. Last year, the total was $85,486,760.

Last fall, Wyatt said the county’s share of funding had dropped from about $4 million from fiscal year 2010-11 to fiscal year 2011-12. 

This year, Linn County received $1,341,826 from the BLM, compared to $2,237,337 last year. Benton County received $833,802 this year compared to $2,381,408 last year.

The payments are earmarked for specific uses, Wyatt said. Most goes into the road fund and the general fund to be passed on to schools. Roads receive 75 percent and schools 25 percent.

Economists at Oregon State University estimate the loss of revenue will result in 4,000 job losses statewide and a loss of more than $400 million in business sales.

Linn County has not been as dependent on the payments as other counties.

Last fall, representatives of timber-dependent counties met with Gov. John Kitzhaber concerning the potential loss of federal payments. Commissioner Doug Robertson told Kitzhaber the payments account for 65 percent of the general fund in Douglas County. The county had already cut 230 jobs over the last three years and cut spending on public safety, public works projects, social services and veterans programs.

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