Oregon high court declines appeal in $1 billion timber suit

September 17, 2022 GMT

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from 13 counties in a long-running $1 billion lawsuit over timber revenue and what constitutes “the greatest permanent value” when it comes to forest management.

The denial ends a six-year legal battle over logging practices on 700,000 acres and is a victory for the state Department of Forestry and environmental groups. The decision leaves in place a lower court ruling saying that Oregon can manage forests for a range of values that include recreation, water quality and wildlife habitat — not just logging revenue.

“It’s the end of the road for what has been a false narrative for far too long … that it’s the public forestland’s obligation to provide the bulk of the revenues for local communities,” Ralph Bloemers, who represented fishing and conservation groups in the case, told Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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The counties gave forestland to the state decades ago and Oregon manages the land and funnels timber revenue to the counties.

But 13 counties took Oregon to court, alleging the state was not maximizing logging on the forests. A Linn County jury found in the counties’ favor in 2019 and awarded more than $1 billion in damages, but an appeals court struck down the verdict earlier this year.

A representative for the counties called the high court’s inaction “disappointing.”

“The underlying issue of forest practices on public lands is left unresolved,” Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist said in a statement.

Linn is one of several Oregon counties and special taxing districts that receive a cut of logging profits from forestland they gave to the state in the 1930s and 1940s. Oregon agreed to manage those lands, which were mostly burned and logged over at the time of donation, “so as to secure the greatest permanent value of those lands to the state.”

Oregon has sent millions of dollars to the counties over the years, bolstering local budgets. But 13 counties took the state to court, saying “greatest permanent value” meant managing forests for maximum timber revenue.

The Oregon Department of Justice, which represented the state government in the case, issued a written statement Friday calling the Supreme Court’s decision a “victory for Oregon’s environment and for sound forest management in general.”

“Our forests serve a range of environmental, recreational, and economic purposes,” the statement reads. “By allowing what we argued was the correct decision of the Court of Appeals to stand, we have a swifter resolution and finality after a 6-year dispute.”