Other Say - June 13, 2014

Forest use fees may alienate the public

Weyerhaeuser’s latest strategy for wringing maximum income from its Pacific Northwest forests — charging fees for access — is the obvious outcome of the merger in the late 20th century of most community-based logging operations into a few giant multinational corporations.

In Clatsop County, a 14,400-acre tract of forest — 22.5 square miles — bound by Highways 26, 202 and 103 near Jewell will require a fee of $155 every six months. A maximum of 125 permits will be issued. The initial permit period runs from Aug. 1 through Jan. 31, 2015. Permits go on sale at 6 p.m. June 24. See www.wyrecreation nw.com for complete details.

Weyerhaeuser is headquartered in Washington state, where it acquired vast forests a century ago in a still-controversial collaboration with the Northern Pacific Railroad. For decades, it made so much money by harvesting timber it acquired for $6 an acre that charging fees never crossed executives’ minds. But in the 21st century, Weyerhaeuser and other large timberland owners regard themselves not as logging companies, but as investment firms owing shareholders a duty to make money from land in every feasible way.

Weyerhaeuser didn’t have much of a presence in Oregon until it acquired Willamette Industries in 2002 in a hostile buyout. Willamette was well regarded here for its generous tradition of corporate citizenship. Weyerhaeuser has made little effort to live up to that example.

Citizen opinions differ about the fees. Some see them as a reasonable free-market decision, especially because Weyerhaeuser incurs significant costs for cleaning up litter and repairing damage caused by visitors. Others see fees as a gross violation of a social compact that once provided access as a sort of fringe benefit for employees and the small towns where they lived.

Under long-established laws, all landowners are within their rights to exclude others from private property or impose fees and other conditions. The more complex question is whether Weyerhaeuser and other forest owners are politically smart to alienate taxpayers, voters and legislators.

Forest firms that charge fees for access should not be surprised if citizens advocate reciprocal fees for fire protection and other public services.

— The Daily Astorian

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