Preserving Forest Lands for Forest Uses - Oregon Property Taxation and Land Use Policies for Forest Lands
International Court of Justice
Edward J. Sullivan
Portland State University
January 19, 2010
Forest lands are a significant factor in the identity and economy of Oregon. This article outlines the role of forest lands to both and then discusses state taxation and land use policies towards these lands in the face of changing economic, political and social circumstances.
Oregon property taxation policy has been sensitive to the needs of the timber industry, allowing, among other things forest land owners to shift the payment of property taxes until timber is cut and providing an assessment regime that shifts the assessment of forest lands away from the traditional “highest and best use” pattern, as the principal product from those lands may not be harvested for decades.
Oregon forest land use policy has been in place for more than forty years and is more controversial. The principal landmarks of this policy include the passage of a statewide land use program, by which a state agency, the Land Conservation and Development Commission (“LCDC”) adopts various land use policies (“goals” and their implementing administrative rules) to be applied and enforced by local governments.
While these policies have been fairly effective in preventing the conversion of forest lands to non-forest uses, they have not always been well-received by timber interests or rural landowners. Three principal controversies are recounted in dealing with the details of the program: (1) the struggle between a goal to preserve forest lands for forest uses and another goal mandating the inventory and conservation of specific resources often found on forest lands to promote conservation values; (2) efforts of the forest industry to preempt local regulation of forest practices set by the state on forest lands; and (3) state initiative and referendum activity dealing with an extra-constitutional requirement of “just compensation” for those landowners whose land may have been devalued by the imposition of land use regulations. In all of these controversies, the timber industry has played an important role.
The authors conclude with some final comments and conclusions about the Oregon programs in these areas, evaluating its effectiveness in meeting multiple, and sometime conflicting, state policy objectives.
Keywords: forest land, Oregon, land use
Date posted: January 20, 2010