Oregon voters say, “Enough is Enough”

Guest Columnist

Voters in Oregon sent a clear signal on Nov. 2 that “enough is enough.”

They soundly rejected Measure 34 (62-38 percent) that would put half of Oregon’s Tillamook and Clatsop state forests off limits to timber management and harvest. Known as the “Tillamook 50-50 Plan,” it would require the state to lock away half of the state forests and let nature have its way.

Measure 34 backers failed to realize that Oregon voters know the state has some of the nation’s most stringent forest management and logging regulations. Like Washington, Oregon has strong environmental protection laws, which already protect wildlife, fragile plants and streams for drinking water, trout, salmon and steelhead habitat and agriculture. It is all part of an environmentally balanced approach to managing our public lands based on sound science.

Oregonians know that forests have lifecycles as well. Many remember that between 1933 and 1945, virtually all the Tillamook Forest was devoured in four mammoth wildfires. The 1933 fire alone engulfed enough wood to build over one-million average-sized homes for working families. Those infernos rendered the area a moonscape and sent billowing clouds of choking smoke and ash over Portland and the Pacific Northwest.

Measure 34, opposed by local elected officials and Gov. Ted Kulongoski, also lost for a couple of other reasons.

First, timber sales income from state forest land help fund Oregon’s schools and the state’s education system has serious and growing financial problems.

Second, local governments fiercely opposed the measure because it threatened timber revenues dedicated to county governments for police, fire protection and urban parks and swimming pools.

On another ballot issue, Oregon voters sent an equally strong message. They overwhelmingly approved Measure 37 (61-39 percent), and now government must compensate landowners for regulations that reduce property values. Specifically, Measure 37 says that if a landowner can prove that a regulation restricts the use of his property and reduces its fair market value, the responsible state or local government must compensate the landowner, stop applying it, or change it so it doesn’t diminish the land’s value.

Measure 37 grew out of property owner frustration. Many feel they are bullied by state and local government officials. For example, a Portland business owner wanted to expand, but the city officials told him they would only grant his building permit if he gave up some of his land, without compensation, for a bike path, as required by a city ordinance. Understandably, the property owner thought the city should pay fair market value for his land.

Now Oregon government officials predict Measure 37 will cost the state up to $344 million a year in administrative costs, not including potential payouts to property owners. The costs alone should cause regulators to think twice before they pass overly burdensome land-use regulations.

Voters in Washington state may be thinking of mounting their own version of Measure 37. Furor over burdensome land use and environmental regulations are pushing many property owners to the brink. For example, the King County Council in Seattle recently passed a new ordinance requiring rural property owners who haven’t yet cleared their land to put as much as half to two-thirds of their property off limits to supposedly protect water quality. Critics, who say the regulation is a huge land grab by the County, have sued to overturn the new rule.

Reasonable land-use regulations are necessary, and we need thoughtful laws and rules that protect our environment. However, lawmakers, regulators and political activists must strike a balance and use sound science. They cannot continue to use regulations to halt all development, stop sound forest management and timber harvests, weaken private property rights, or cause hard working families to lose their jobs or life’s savings that are invested in their piece of land.

This November, voters in Oregon finally said, “Enough is enough.” Et tu, Washington?

Don Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business.