Hard-Hit County May Release Inmates in Face of Fiscal Cliff Cuts

The Associated Press reported that if lawmakers do not reach a deal on the fiscal cliff, local police in Oregon will release inmates from jails:

A scenario that police in western Oregon feared came true in the thick of holiday season after two dozen inmates were freed from a county jail that could no longer afford to hold them. Less than an hour after one low-level offender walked out, authorities say, he was demanding that a bank teller hand over money. In a time of budget cuts, cases where inmates get out of jail with little punishment only to commit more serious crimes shortly after their release have become all too common, authorities say. Many in law enforcement predicted this would happen, and it could get worse if the nation goes over the so-called fiscal cliff. The recession and a steady reduction in federal subsidies to timber counties have led Oregon sheriffs and district attorneys to juggle deep cuts. There are fewer jail beds, sheriff’s patrols, prosecutors, parole officers and specialized investigators.

The county has become increasingly reliant upon federal “timber payments” to fulfill its budget through the years in compensation for logging areas seized by the federal government. Those subsidies have been reduced over the past several years, leaving the county vulnerable to any further cuts going over the fiscal cliff may trigger:

But there’s another reason why the tax base is low. Fifty-four percent of the land in Lane County belongs to the federal government, which pays no local taxes. The land is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

For decades timber sales generated the majority of the county’s general fund, but that changed during the Clinton presidency. Eager to end the timber wars over the spotted owl, President Clinton came up with a plan that essentially pays rural timber counties to not log in the national forests.

Since 2001, 700 counties in 41 states have received SRS (Secure Rural Schools) payments. Nearly one-third of the money has been directed to the timber-rich state of Oregon. But those payments have been dwindling and, for the last several years, have been in jeopardy of not being renewed. Lane County used to get $50 million a year in timber payments. This year it will get $10 million.

During the Clinton administration, environmentalists campaigned to pass regulation to protect the Spotted Owl under the Endangered Species Act. By doing so, the government seized private land where the owls made their nests. The timber industry, along with all of its jobs, was driven out of places like Lane County, Oregon:

When a judge ruled that cutting down trees endangered the picky owl’s habitat and had to end, it sparked widespread protests and marches by soon-to-be out-of-work loggers.

The economies of small towns in the Pacific Northwest collapsed, as the rural chainsaw-wielding Kulaks were defenestrated by judicial edict. Federally subsidized housing for the spotted owl grew from 690,000 acres in 1986 to 11.6 million acres in 1991. Oregon’s timber harvest on federal land plunged from 4.9 billion board feet in 1988 to 240 million board feet in 2009. The usual phony advocacy science promised this was all in a good cause and that the species would rapidly recover.

In 2011, The Oregonian reported that the move to regulate the timber industry in the state was not saving the Spotted Owl. Another culprit was to blame:

Come summer, federal wildlife officials expect to finish a draft environmental impact statement that most likely recommends taking to the woods with shotguns. Over the next year, in three or more study areas from Washington to northern California, they might kill 1,200 to 1,500 barred owls -- the larger, more aggressive competitor that has routed spotted owls from much of their territory and become, along with habitat loss, the biggest threat to their survival...

Some biologists believe the proposal won't work. More barred owls, perhaps hundreds, would have to be killed every year to keep the study areas free of interlopers for three to 10 years. One biologist estimated the cost at up to $1 million annually.

Reversing President George W. Bush’s efforts to revise President Clinton’s land grabs in the Northwest region of the United States, President Barack Obama reinstated Clinton’s original Northwest Forest plan earlier this year.


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