The Oregon Court of Appeals today overturned a $1.1 billion verdict in a case involving 13 counties, taxing districts and the state, County of Linn v. State of Oregon, over how the state manages timber harvests on state forest lands. In today’s decision, the court found that Oregon did not violate a state and local agreement over timber harvests when the state balanced the financial benefits of timber production with other benefits like water quality, wildlife habitat, and recreation opportunities.
“The Court of Appeals decision today is a victory for Oregon’s environment as well as for sound forest management,” said Attorney General Rosenblum. “The court agreed with the state’s legal position in recognizing that Oregon’s forests serve a full range of environmental, recreational, and economic uses that the Department of Forestry has authority to balance in order to secure the greatest value to all Oregonians.”
“In Oregon, we manage our forests not only for the benefit and prosperity of this generation but those to come,” said Governor Kate Brown. “Today’s decision by the Oregon Court of Appeals is a validation of the fact that a balanced, science-based approach to public forest management will produce the greatest long-term outcomes for all Oregonians, including the counties and taxing districts that receive revenue from state forests. Working together, I am confident the state and the counties can find a sustainable approach to supporting critical services for Oregonians.”
State law has long required the Board of Forestry to manage the state forests to “secure the greatest permanent value of those lands to the state.” In 1998, the Board adopted a rule explaining what the “greatest permanent value” of the state forests means, agreeing that the Department of Forestry would balance multiple values and uses of the forests. The rule also said that although environmentally sound timber production was important, it was not exclusive of other uses that provide a full range of social, economic, and environmental benefits to the people of Oregon.
A group of counties originally sued the state in 2016, arguing that the “greatest permanent value” of more than 700,000 acres of state forest land is by maximizing timber production revenue, revenue that by state law gets shared with the counties. They sought more than a billion dollars in damages based on what they claimed was the difference in how much timber would have been and would in the future be harvested if revenue-maximization was the rule and how much was and was projected to be harvested under the 1998 rule. A Linn County jury agreed with the counties, and awarded them $1.1 billion, including more than $160 million for attorney fees.
The Attorney General also thanked Solicitor General Ben Gutman, Special Counsel Michael Kron and the lawyers and staff of the three DOJ legal divisions that have worked tirelessly for years on this case; Appellate, Trial and General Counsel Divisions.