More timber, more taxes or bust for Ore. counties

ROSEBURG, Ore. -- In May, dozens of inmates walked free into the sunlight after being released from the Josephine County jail in rural southwest Oregon, an hour south of here.

The 39 inmates -- carrying charges for drug crimes, minor assaults, burglary, identity theft, rape and failure to register as a sex offender -- were the lucky beneficiaries of a $12 million county budget shortfall caused by the expiration of federal timber payments.

The county also eliminated jail beds and released about 70 sheriff's deputies and civilian personnel and roughly half its prosecuting attorneys. Residents made a run on new gun licenses. After all, who was going to keep the streets safe?


Spared from old-growth logging, spotted owl faces new threat

ROSEBURG, Ore. -- Bureau of Land Management biologist Rob Horn carries a foot-long cylinder full of mice into a lush forest searching for northern spotted owls.

In his backpack is a small amplifier that can sound the owl's territorial call.

But the raptor needs no coaxing. Within minutes, the sociable male flutters up a steep mountainside to a moss-covered branch along the road.

Like the bell for Pavlov's dogs, human voices signal meal time for the owl and his brood.

Decades after federal agencies cordoned off millions of acres of Pacific Northwest forests to protect old-growth trees -- the owl's favored habitat -- the bird is as imperiled as ever.

While clear cuts are the historic culprit, biologists, loggers and policymakers are now pointing the finger at the owl's larger cousin, the barred owl, a more aggressive species that migrated west in the late 1950s and has spread south from British Columbia into Washington, Oregon and California.


Hard slog ahead as U.S. seeks breakthrough in decades-old timber war

ROSEBURG, Ore. -- On a mist-veiled mountain in western Oregon, pink ribbons mark Douglas fir trees that federal officials hope will revive the area's teetering timber industry and potentially spark a biological renaissance.

The Bureau of Land Management this summer plans to begin selling more than 8 million board feet of lumber across 285 acres. The project, albeit small by historical standards, hopes to shift the paradigm in Pacific Northwest forestry.

The Myrtle Creek project is part of a broader Obama administration push to restore western Oregon forests, boost supplies for local mills and revive funding for cash-strapped counties.

The sale is one of three "ecological forestry" pilots that seek a middle ground between light-on-the-land thinnings and the industrial clear cuts BLM abandoned decades ago.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar this year announced BLM will pursue a handful of additional ecological forestry projects, and the Forest Service, which manages most Pacific Northwest forests, may also follow suit.

Federal funds decreasing

At the center of the debate

About this report

The Northwest Forest Plan may have saved the northern spotted owl from old-growth logging, but it couldn’t anticipate a growing threat from the owl’s eastern neighbor. Meanwhile, timber-dependent counties in western Oregon are approaching a fiscal cliff as federal aid nears its end. Counties want more logs, but environmentalists want protection for owls. The Obama administration says it has a plan for both. E&E explores the confluence of wildlife, the economy and politics in western Oregon.