PORTLAND, OR — The Oregon Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from 13 counties in a longstanding billion-dollar lawsuit over timber revenues and what constitutes ‘the greatest permanent value’ in forest management .
The denial ends a six-year legal battle over logging practices on 700,000 acres and is a victory for the state Forest Department and environmental groups. The ruling leaves in place a lower court ruling saying Oregon can manage forests for a range of values that include recreation, water quality and wildlife habitat — not just revenue from Forest explotation.
“It’s the end of the road for what has been a false narrative for too long…that it is the obligation of public forest lands to provide the bulk of income to local communities,” said Ralph Bloemers , who represented fishing and conservation groups in the case, told Oregon Public Broadcasting.
The counties gave forest land to the state decades ago, and Oregon manages the land and funnels timber revenue to the counties.
But 13 counties sued Oregon, alleging the state was not maximizing logging in 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 overturned the verdict earlier this year.
A representative for the counties described the High Court’s inaction as “disappointing”.
“The underlying issue of forestry practices on public lands remains unresolved,” Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist said in a statement.
Linn is one of several Oregon counties and special tax districts that receive a cut in logging profits from forest land they donated to the state in the 1930s and 1940s. Oregon agreed to manage these lands, which were mostly burned and harvested at the time of the donation, “in order to secure the greatest permanent value of these lands to the state”.
Oregon has sent millions of dollars to counties over the years, bolstering local budgets. But 13 counties sued the state, saying “greatest permanent value” meant managing forests to maximize timber revenue.
The Oregon Department of Justice, which represented the state government in the case, released a written statement on Friday calling the Supreme Court’s decision “a victory for Oregon’s environment and for the good management of forests in general”.
“Our forests serve a variety of environmental, recreational and economic purposes,” the statement said. “By allowing what we argued was the right decision from the Court of Appeals, we have faster resolution and finality after a 6-year dispute.”