A recent poll by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that Oregonians want more land and water protections for forests in the southwestern part of the state. These forests, commonly known as O&C lands, were established in 1866 when Congress created a land-grant program for the Oregon & California Railroad Co. to spur completion of the rail line between Portland and San Francisco. The railroad was never built, and the lands are now managed by the BLM and Forest Service.
In recent years, these forests have served as a cash-register for rural counties in western Oregon that have funded their schools and other services with logging revenue from the lands. Policymakers and Obama Administration officials at all levels have discussed various options for managing these public lands, which include some of the nation’s oldest forests.
Last fall, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber convened a panel of conservation groups, timber representatives, and county commissioners to determine how to balance conservation and logging on the O&C lands. The panel’s recommendations will inform federal legislation to resolve this issue.
To bring the opinions of local communities into the conversation, Pew commissioned a bipartisan statewide poll of likely voters in western Oregon on the O&C lands issue. By wide margins both statewide and in the O&C counties, voters said their top priority for management of the O&C lands is “protecting old-growth forests, bodies of water, and the wildlife that live there.”
From an outdoor industry perspective, this polling data is significant because it shows that Oregonians would rather preserve forests and clean water than sacrifice those amenities to stabilize funding for local governments.
On a related subject, Headwaters Economics recently released a study, “West is Best”, which demonstrates that protected public lands are a key competitive advantage for rural counties in the West. According to the study, over the past 40 years, Western non-metro counties with more than 30 percent federal protected land increased jobs by 345 percent compared to 83 percent in counties with no protected land.
The Pew poll and the Headwaters study show, that the public and the economists agree that our public lands need more protection. It makes economic sense.