Front-line communities suffer as Wall Street takes over Oregon forest lands7 min read
[00:00:00] John Q: Speaking on grassroots community organizing and the corporate takeover of Oregon forest lands, co-director of the Coast Range Association, Andrew Collins-Anderson.
[00:00:10] Andrew Collins-Anderson: I grew up in a rural foothills community of the Sierra Nevadas, Nevada City, which is in between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, really beautiful place in the Sierras. And was fortunate enough to have parents who loved to explore and we’d go hiking. And there is a river there called the Yuba River that we would spend a huge amount of time on. And that experience and the many, many long, hot summer days spent swimming in the rapids and exploring old mining tunnels and seeing osprey and fish and all these different things, you know, really just deeply influenced me.
[00:00:47] The Yuba River is really unique. It’s full of all these beautiful, smooth granite rocks. And when I was younger, you know, you just think it’s this really special place, but actually the way that that riverbed was formed, it was that because of all that hydraulic mining, the sediments flowing over the rocks and rubbing them smooth and creating all these beautiful textures. But, you know, over time realizing, this beautiful place that I have a lot of connection to, was formed from this ecological catastrophe, and really trying to square that has influenced a lot of my work in my life.
[00:01:18] For a long time, I kind of explored around, went to community colleges, learned about forestry, environmental science, had some really influential teachers over the years from elementary school to college. I learned a great deal about the indigenous cultures of Northern California, of the United States, learned about the colonial history that you don’t get taught in public school, really deeply informed what I was interested in, and then decided to go and get a degree in environmental science. This was in like 2007. And was fortunate enough to get a degree that was very interdisciplinary and had some amazing professors that connected these issues. And actually had a teacher who taught a community organizing class and I realized that this was a passion and something that I could really sink my teeth into.
[00:02:05] There’s an organization called the South Yuba River Citizens League, where I really was introduced to community organizing for environmental protection, really a great grassroots group. And I was fortunate enough to after college get a job working for them, doing river protection work and education on the river specifically.
[00:02:21] So all those things combined really deepened and broadened my connection to both place and, but also understanding the importance of community coming together as groups of folks and having fun in place and building strong connections that support protecting and enhancing a place.
[00:02:38] It’s the interplay between community and then the nature that really has inspired me over the years.
[00:02:44] John Q: The Coast Range Association has been mapping the Wall Street takeover of Oregon forest lands.
[00:02:52] Andrew Collins-Anderson: I’ve been super fortunate to have learned about Oregon forestry from Chuck Willer of the Coast Range Association, who spent years looking into the economics and the community impacts of industrial forestry on rural communities. And it’s been very interesting to learn about the Wall Street takeover of industrial forestry in Oregon and the ownership takeover in Western Oregon.
[00:03:19] Some of the work that we’ve done recently is mapping ownership and identifying these different forest entities: these REITs, the real estate investment trusts, the TIMOs, timber investment management organizations, this next level of intensity and evil, I guess you can say of owning these lands for pulling out as much profit as possible to increase the wealth of investors, those wealthiest people on the planet who are invested in these lands. 2.4 million acres in Western Oregon alone, are owned by these Wall Street forest companies that we identified.
[00:03:56] And it’s been really interesting. We’ve been working with folks in a working group of the Pacific Northwest Forest Climate Alliance, really looking at the intersections between forest and climate and how it plays out on these Wall Street-owned, giant tracts, plantations, you know, and the big companies— Weyerhaeuser, Hampton, Campbell Global—these large investment companies, they’re talking about how these plantations are a solution to the biological, social, and climate crises that we’re facing.
[00:04:29] And the audacity of that is just, it’s horrible. And it’s been just really inspiring working cross-movement with climate folks and forest defense folks to really critically look at what’s happening on these lands, how it’s impacting communities, how they’re extracting wealth, how they’ve manufactured limited taxes, harvest tax, severance tax, how they’ve gotten away with extracting as much wealth as possible on these forests leaving communities out to dry.
[00:05:03] And coming together and trying to build power across movements to show that these forests are not only essential habitat, not only provide essential drinking water, but also globally are some of the best in the world at storing carbon.
[00:05:16] And now’s the time to continue to push for a land ownership change to really get large diverse forests both for the community benefits, but also globally for carbon storage. So that from the grassroots up to the global issues and all the connections there has been really inspiring for me.
[00:05:33] And it’s really difficult work and challenging the wealthiest folks on the planet who are driving these crises that we experience—the social justice, economic, and climate crises—is daunting. But I think, yeah, coming together and seeing how forests play a part in that global struggle is really, really important.
[00:05:51] John Q: The Coast Range Association produced its own forest proposal to address climate change.
[00:05:59] Andrew Collins-Anderson: Last year Chuck Willer wrote and I helped him produce a forest and climate proposal connecting it to federal mobilization to address climate change. Back in 2019-2020-2021, there was a lot of energy behind things like the Green New Deal, this idea that the federal government would make a rapid change to address the climate crisis and that the forests of the Pacific Northwest should and could play a really important role in that.
[00:06:25] And so any solution that we come up with that builds carbon, conserves forest, builds habitat, must include the people who live on the landscape and must include a just transition, which is the term used for in Green New Deal circles of including frontline communities, folks like depopulated rural areas, de-industrialized communities just like we have all over Western Oregon.
[00:06:50] Any solution needs to include building wealth and building prosperity in these communities. So the proposal that we put together includes a strong exposition of the problem on the landscape, what’s happening with these Wall Street timber firms.
[00:07:05] Just in 2021 Campbell Global— owns about 150,000 acres in Western Oregon— was purchased by JP Morgan Chase, a notorious financier of fossil fuels, a target of climate movements. Like I said, they’re getting into this to use false green solutions, like plantation forests, to justify their fossil fuel investments and expansion. Even if they do grow forests larger, and if they do own these forests and they conserve them, they shouldn’t be selling carbon credits or things like that, that continue to provide wealth to the wealthiest folks on the planet, while rural Oregonians, people in these frontline communities, suffer and continue to have less and less opportunities.
[00:07:43] So we call for a land transition in ownership, transitioning the owners, really getting down to the core of who controls the land, and there can be many different ways that that can play out—municipal ownership, cooperative social benefit, enterprise ownership, tribal lands restoration—many different avenues for transitioning ownership, but with the goal to increase rural prosperity, store carbon.
[00:08:06] So that’s what we’ve been trying to talk about. We’ve been bringing it to the climate folks, we’ve been talking to forest conservation folks, talking to decision makers, building grassroots space about this idea.
[00:08:17] And lots of folks have critiques: It’s so expensive, how you can’t buy them out, do they want to sell the land? Will these entities want to sell? Something Chuck (Willer) always says, as you all know, living out in rural areas, that these lands transition all the time. These companies sell them back and forth to each other constantly. So, you know, they have no allegiance to the land like we do as people and communities do. These companies have no allegiance to the land. They’ll sell if it’s for their profit, for their investors’ best interest.
[00:08:44] What I’ve heard from community leaders in the north coast communities for watershed protection: ‘Why should we pay them to get these lands? Why don’t we just hold them accountable for what they’re that they’re doing and regulate and tax to make sure that they’re ensuring for watershed protection?’
[00:09:00] I like to think of it as, all the tools are important. We need to make sure that we regulate to make sure that Forest Practices Act is up to at least close enough to California and Washington. We just got that. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, right? We need to put pressure on the regulation side, we need to make sure that they’re being taxed fairly so communities have more income that has been taken away over the years. And then we need to get support federally and get money in to buy them out.
[00:09:29] So it’s using all those tools in the toolbox. But yes, I think continually pushing on the congressional delegation to invest in protecting rural watersheds and rural water is super important.
[00:09:42] John Q: At the Oregon Community Rights Network April 6, co-director of the Coast Range Association, Andrew Collins-Anderson.