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Appeals court reverses verdict that awarded $1 billion to Oregon timber counties

 In this file photo, a truck carries logs through the Tillamook State Forest.
Amelia Templeton
In this file photo, a truck carries logs through the Tillamook State Forest.

The court determined that managing state forestland for the "greatest permanent value" doesn't mean maximizing timber revenue.

The Oregon Court of Appeals on Wednesday reversed a jury verdict that awarded Oregon timber counties and taxing districts $1.1 billion they say they are owed from lost logging revenue.

The central issue in the case was whether the state was contractually obligated to maximize timber revenue on state forestlands donated by the counties in the 1930s and ‘40s.

Oregon agreed to manage those lands, which were mostly burned and logged over, “so as to secure the greatest permanent value of those lands to the state” and return some logging profits to the counties. The state has doled out millions to the counties annually, which has factored heavily into local budgets.

However, the counties equated “greatest permanent value” with maximizing logging revenue and sued the state for not managing the forests accordingly. A jury agreed with the counties in 2019 and ordered the state to pay $1 billion plus interest in damages.

“The counties would never have transferred their property to the state without an assurance that the state would apply sustained yield principles to maximize revenue from the land on a long-term basis,” John DiLorenzo, the lead attorney for the counties, said during oral arguments earlier this year.

The state appealed the decision, saying the forestlands’ value system included recreation, wildlife habitat and more — not just timber.

In a decision released Wednesday morning, the appeals court agreed with the state and reversed the jury’s verdict.

“The political argument that the state must maximize revenue is legally dead,” Ralph Bloemers, an attorney at Crag Law Center who filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of several conservation groups, said in a statement.

This story will be updated.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting