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Tree Huggers Help Close Oregon Library System

Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle reports on the planned closure of the 15 libraries in the Jackson County, Oregon library system. The immediate cause is the loss of $7 million in federal funding, which was 80% of the library system’s budget. The county administrator explained that maintaining public safety is a higher priority than keeping the libraries open.

The history of the funding for the county library system goes back to the days when Theodore Roosevelt was president, as the Chronicle wrote:

In the early 1900s, Roosevelt took 2.4 million acres away from the Oregon-California Railroad, which was accused of swindling land deals in exchange for building the railroad. When the federal government reclaimed the land, Oregon lost half its property tax base.

“To make up for it, the federal government agreed to split timber revenues on the acreage with Oregon. Over the next 50 years it was a lucrative arrangement, and timber money was used to build courthouses and jails, pave roads and free Oregonians from having to pay sales taxes.

“The good times petered out in the early 1990s, when the northern spotted owl was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, all but shutting down large-scale logging. Today, just one large sawmill remains in Jackson County, compared with 91 in 1954.

“While promising to come up with rules for a more ecologically friendly logging method, Congress agreed in 2000 to continue "safety net" payments to rural counties for six more years. But no one did the hard work of figuring out how to balance the timber industry with nature. So the checks stopped in December 2006.

"The federal government stopped making money off of Oregon trees, so they stopped sending money to us -- it's that simple," said Leonard Kranenburg, a retiree who meets his "breakfast club" buddies every morning at Sally's Kitchen in Medford for coffee and conversation.

In November, voters turned down a levy that would have kept the libraries open. One of the county commissioners has the solution, which is to put that timber growing land back on the property tax rolls. But that’s where the tree huggers come in. They’ve had the spotted owl’s endangered species listing tied-up in court for almost two decades. As the commissioner noted, the trees are still growing, and in some places, the Forest Service is paying $400 an  acre to thin the forests.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the tree huggers were willing to meet ordinary citizens even half-way on the spotted owl issue?

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