Timber lawsuit: Historian looks back on timber ups and downs
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$1.4B TIMBER TRIAL

Timber lawsuit: Historian looks back on timber ups and downs

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Plaintiff's attorney John DiLorenzo and state’s witness Steven Beda, an assistant professor of history at the University of Oregon, sparred verbally Tuesday over what foresters and politicians meant by the term "greatest permanent value" when the 1941 Forest Acquisition Act was approved by the Oregon Legislature.

Beda had started his testimony Friday, describing how forests had been managed in terms of timber harvesting, water quality, soil erosion and recreation decade by decade.

His testimony is part of a $1.4 billion class action lawsuit in which 14 counties and 151 taxing districts contend the Oregon Department of Forestry breached a 60-year-old contract that calls for more than 600,000 acres of state forest lands to be managed to produce maximum revenue for the 15 counties in which those lands are located, with other values such as water quality and recreation as secondary management priorities.

Beda spent much of Tuesday talking about the development of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal during the Great Depression and how the National Industrial Recovery Act covered the management of forestlands.

Quoting from a union newspaper, Beda said timber workers supported conservation programs, in part because they had been affected by the cut-and-run policies of private landowners.

He said timber harvesting ebbed and flowed by decade. There was extensive harvesting in the 1920s, followed by a decline in the 1930s since people did not have money to build homes. It ramped back up during World War II and continued into the 1950s, although some people began championing measures for wilderness areas, including the Three Sisters in central Oregon.

By the 1960s, Beda said, mostly urban youth who had enjoyed the fruits of growing up in a booming postwar economy began the modern environmental movement, calling for marked reductions in timber harvests and wildlife protections. They learned to use the court system to halt timber sales, Beda said.

He countered the testimony of a prior witness who had said Oregon had geared up for lumber production for World War II, noting the Forest Acquisition Act was not passed until the spring of 1941 and the United States did not enter the war until after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 of that year. The Forest Acquisition Act, he said, was not driven by the prospect of war on the horizon.

But during his cross-examination, DiLorenzo showed documents which indicated that Gov. Charles Sprague began championing the development of state forests in his inaugural address in January 1939. In Sprague’s 1941 address to the Legislature, Sprague talked about the state’s efforts to bolster its National Guard, increasing its numbers by more than 900 and putting all 4,532 soldiers in a one-year training mode.

Sprague also talked about the importance of the timber industry to provide lumber to the potential war effort.

Beda said it’s not unusual for politicians to show support for the military. He reiterated his belief that foresters like Gifford Pinchot, the first head of the U.S. Forest Service, supported timber harvesting in balance with social, biological and recreational values. He also said Sprague was “a driving force” for the act, but not “the driving force."

DiLorenzo queried the witness about a historian's process when researching a project. Beda, according to DiLorenzo, turned over some 37,000 pages gleaned during work for the state that began in 2016. Beda said he's completed about 200 hours of research and had not read every page, relying at times on the work of other historians in written and oral histories.

DiLorenzo questioned Beda about several articles and op-ed pieces he has authored. Beda contends in one that people — specifically rural timber families — have not been considered when some environmental policy decisions have been formulated.

Beda said Roosevelt supported prosperity — including timber production — but the word "prosperity" then did not just mean economics, but “living a full life, more than just money in the bank.”

But DiLorenzo produced documents that implied qualities such as water protection were meant to enhance irrigation for farming and fishing and “wasting” water would be to allow it to flow to the ocean without being used to create jobs or income.

“There was a huge tent with lots of ideas and values,” Beda said.

During his redirect questioning, state’s attorney Scott Kaplan asked Beda if Gifford Pinchot might have envisioned forests being managed like a tree farm.

Beda said that while Pinchot supported timber harvesting as a forest management tool, “he did not see a one-size-fits all landscape,” meaning he also believed other values were important and should be in balance.

State Forester Peter Daugherty is expected to testify Wednesday before Judge Thomas McHill.

Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.

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