State's Forestry Tax System Works for All of Us

Article excerpt

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Brenda Woodard

As a native Oregonian and co-owner, with my husband, of 400 acres of family forestland in Lane and Douglas counties, I was offended by Tim Hermach's June 14 column blasting the timber industry and just about everyone else. Like many Oregonians, I want to see a balance between economic opportunity and environmental protection rather than anti-business and anti- forestry rhetoric.

The Legislature enacted the Oregon Forest Practices Act in 1971, the first statewide forest protection act of its kind. The act was part of a bundle of bills passed in the late 1960s and early '70s that define us as Oregonians: the Beach Bill in 1967, the Bottle Bill in 1971 and the Land Conservation and Development Act in 1973.

The act protects forestland and natural resources. Oregon's unique system of land use laws protects forestland from being developed for residences or businesses. That keeps the land forested, which is good for fish, wildlife and water quality. It also keeps forestland values low, which makes it affordable to own, invest in and manage - which is why Oregon boasts 65,000 family forestland owners like myself.

Setting aside for the moment the issue of the former Oregon & California Railroad lands, Hermach made sweeping, unfounded claims against Oregon's system of taxation and forest practice laws. I believe our laws protect Oregon's private forests from development while protecting our natural resources.

In 1977, the Legislature recognized that, much like farmers, private forest landowners were managing trees they planted themselves. We make investments in the land and forests that are not recouped for 40 years or more, provided the trees aren't destroyed by fire, wind, insects or disease.

To encourage investments and stewardship, lawmakers changed the method of taxing forestland and timber harvest. Lawmakers eliminated the ad valorem tax on live trees, but continued to assess a property tax that is based on the forestland's productivity.

When trees are cut and sold, income is generated and that income is taxed. In addition, a harvest tax is levied that supports forestry research, administration of the act, fire protection and public education about forestry.

Because there is not an annual income stream from each acre of forestland, such land is generally assessed at less than agricultural land and a lot less than land that can be developed into homes or businesses.

Oregon isn't alone in that approach. Forestland owners in California, Washington and Idaho also pay property tax on the land, but not on the trees - as long as they still are standing. …