Recent letters from activist environmental groups’ board members negatively portray the Oregon Forest Practices Act, the tax and contributions forest landowners pay in Oregon and the practice of meeting world demand for wood products by exporting materials. The gentlemen’s positions are not new or surprising but do warrant further explanation.
The Oregon Forest Practices Act was established in 1971, the first of its kind in the nation. Its purpose is to motivate (regulate) landowners to keep forests as forests by requiring replanting, protect water quality and provide for wildlife needs. It has specific regulations relating to every activity associated with managing forest lands, be it on 20 acres or 2 million acres. As practices have evolved and outcomes become understood, the act has been updated and additional regulations added. Like all regulations, there are those who think it is too lax and others who think it too restrictive. Regardless, because of the act and landowners’ adherence to it, we have thriving forests on private and state lands, clean water for our communities and wildlife and habitat for all sorts of wildlife. By all accounts it is meeting its objectives and serving our state well.
“People who complain about taxes can be divided into two classes — men and women” (author unknown). The recent letter writers complain about the amount of taxes forest landowners pay. Forest landowners pay multiple taxes similar to other businesses or entities in the state. Forest owners pay property taxes, forest fire protection taxes (forest fire insurance doesn’t really exist), and harvest taxes when trees are cut and sold. Some of these taxes are paid every year — property and fire protection — while harvest taxes are paid when the activity occurs.
In addition to the taxes above, forest owners pay state and federal income taxes as well as any other business taxes and fees that other businesses are required to pay to own and operate an entity in the state of Oregon. Adding additional taxes, such as a severance tax, on a long-term investment (40-60 years) has been deemed by the Oregon Legislature to be a disincentive to forest owners to continue to invest and maintain healthy forests in our state. Forest owners invest for very long cycles, facing risk of loss due to fire, insect disease, regulatory changes, markets, etc. over these very long harvest cycles. Private timberland owners are members of Oregon’s rural communities and are active partners in ensuring the health of these communities. We provide jobs, manage our resources and invest in the community. Many, like Lone Rock Timber, have been around for 50 or more years. The challenges of our local county governments are not due to failure of private forest owners to pay their share.
It is a simple criticism to say we shouldn’t export logs because we have mills in our state competing for the logs. Demand for wood worldwide is increasing. As economies around the world grow and mature, demand for things we take for granted increase. People want a solid home to live in and comforts inside those homes. Not every country has abundant natural resources to meet that demand, so they look elsewhere to obtain them. Because of its geographic vicinity to the Pacific Rim, Oregon will remain a logical exporter to China and other growing countries around the region.
That said, the core customer for logs from our privately owned lands has remained the local mills within our region. Private timberland owners continue to be an important piece of supporting our economy, our environment and the vitality of the forest products industry.
Toby Luther of Roseburg is the chief executive officer for Lone Rock Timber, a 60-plus-year-old forest management company based in Roseburg. Lone Rock sustainably manages a timberland ownership that includes approximately 125,000 acres of timberland in Southern Oregon. He can be reached at TLuther@lrtco.com.