This article is a brief review of the convoluted history of what are known as the Oregon and California forest lands, federal lands that were once the subject of a 19th century federal railroad grant, then became the focus of widespread land fraud and official corruption, which led to the Supreme Court halting land sales and Congress taking back the lands, situated in eighteen Oregon counties. Federal management of the lands in the 20th century emphasized timber harvesting, and this dominant use of the lands led to environmental lawsuits and the Endangered Species Act listing of the northern spotted owl in the early 1990s. Since 1994, the lands have been governed by the Northwest Forest Plan, which drastically limited federal timber harvests and associated local county revenues, which were based on those harvests. Several counties in southern Oregon now face public service crises, as their local tax base is insufficient to provide emergency services like fire and police.
In this short version of a larger study -- written for the local bar -- we propose a solution to the funding crisis in southern Oregon that does not involve scuttling the Northwest Forest Plan and returning the lands to dominant timber use. Increasing timber harvests to fund county governments is the subject of a bill co-sponsoring by several Oregon Congressmen, and we explain why this approach would be short-sighted and environmentally unsatisfactory.