How Oregon’s rural counties lost billions to investment companies that took over private forests

A logging truck drives through Falls City, in Polk County, about 25 miles southwest of Salem.
Logging is booming around Falls City, a town of about 1,000 residents in the Oregon Coast Range. More trees are cut in the county today than decades ago when a sawmill hummed on Main Street.
But jobs and services have dried up, and the town is going broke. The library closed two years ago. And as many as half of the families in Falls City live on weekly food deliveries from the Mountain Gospel Fellowship.
Blame has traditionally been laid at the feet of the federal government and urban environmental advocates. But a joint investigation by The Oregonian/OregonLive, OPB and ProPublica found otherwise.
Wall Street real estate trusts and investment funds have gained control over Oregon’s private forestlands. These entities profited at the expense of rural communities by logging more aggressively with fewer environmental protections than in neighboring states, while reaping the benefits of timber tax cuts.
Put another way: The near-elimination of Oregon’s timber severance tax, which helped fund schools and local governments, has meant the loss of tens of millions of dollars in revenue
Read the investigation here.
The influence institute
While Oregon’s biggest forest owners eliminated thousands of jobs, shrank their contribution to the state’s economy and received an estimated $3 billion in tax cuts, they also maintained outsized influence on public opinion with the help of the Oregon Forest Resources Institute.
The institute, created in the early 1990s to educate residents about forestry, has acted as a public-relations agency and lobbying arm for the timber industry, in some cases skirting legal constraints that forbid it from doing so. Its work has included efforts to discredit Oregon State University research finding that logging, once thought to have no negative effect on global warming, was among the state’s biggest climate polluters.
Read the full story here.
Polluted by Money
Reporter Rob Davis’ 2019 four-part series “Polluted by Money,” on how Oregon’s lack of campaign finance limits led lawmakers to an easy tolerance of polluters, has won two more major awards:
Read the series here.