Death of timber money births a rural study

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Friday, June 01, 2007

CORVALLIS — Driven by the collapse of the federal timber payments to rural counties, a joint project between Oregon State University, the Association of Oregon Counties and the Ford Family Foundation will study the effect of the loss of that annual $280 million, and use the information to help chart the next chapter for rural Oregon.

Bruce Weber, director of OSU’s Rural Studies Program and leader of the project, says the study will be funded by a grant from the Ford Family Foundation, enlist the OSU extension faculty and use some of the community members trained in Ford’s leadership program. “We will be on the ground, trying to figure out how the loss of the money is playing out,” Weber says. Data gathering will begin in July and the study should be completed in 2008.

“The collaboration is broader than the loss of timber payments,” says Weber. “It’s about the future of rural Oregon.”

The final timber payment was made last September, and in some counties the money comprised more than 60% of their budgets. The payments funded schools, roads, libraries and other services. A plan to extend the pay-ments for one year was approved by the U.S. House in May, but its fate was still uncertain. And ultimately the money is considered gone for good.

The study effort was spurred by Laura Pryor, a former Gilliam County judge and member of the Eastern Oregon Rural Alliance who has long advocated for rural Oregon.

“We need good on-the-ground information because this crisis is huge,” says Pryor. “There is no bailout from the state. It will take time for people to come to grips with it. This is our first attempt to get our arms around realities.”

Pryor and Mike McArthur, AOC’s executive director, both decry what they see as a lack of concern for rural Oregon in the state Legislature, citing most egregiously the expected death this year of the Office of Rural Policy, which is not in the co-chairs’ budget.

The groups hope the study will combat a lack of understanding about rural Oregon.

— Robin Doussard

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