The Pilot Program for Regional Farm and Forest Land “Conservation"

At the very end of the 2012 legislative session an item was placed in the budget to set aside $550,000 for a “pilot project” to allow three counties the opportunity to re-define farm and forest land and to rezone land that no longer meets those definitions. Despite the fact that attempts to pass a bill that would authorize this work had failed during several previous legislative sessions, the Governor then issued Executive Order 12-07, authorizing the project.

Euphemistically entitled the “Pilot Project for Regional Farm and Forest Land Conservation,” the project has the potential to do anything but conserve Oregon’s working landscapes. The project allows a “pilot project,” where three counties can define themselves as a “region” and then attempt to create definitions for farm and forest land that are more appropriate for that region. It specifically then allows the counties to re-zone current farm and forest land that does not meet the new definition to non-resources uses, and potentially allow increased development on those lands.

The three counties that will participate in the project are Jackson, Josephine, and Douglas. Two of these counties (Josephine and Douglas), are on the short list of those facing financial insolvency and, like the state, have more important priorities for funding. (Josephine County has withdrawn all financial support for its libraries, and has only 40 hours per week of Sheriff patrols.) Despite this uncomfortable fact, they were named with Jackson County to form the first “region” to attempt this effort.

The first $350,000 of the money will go to the counties and the Rogue Valley Council of Governments (RVCOG), who will provide administrative and coordinating services for the project. The final $200,000 will go to the state agencies that are required to participate (including DLCD, ODOT, ODA, Forestry, and others). The money must be spent by June 30, 2013

The project is still in the very early stages of being organized. A draft Work Plan was presented to LCDC in November of 2012. Southern Oregon Advocate Greg Holmes testified at LCDC about inadequate opportunities for public participation in the work plan, and it is being revised to bolster citizen participation opportunities. As of this writing (early December 2012) the plan has not been finalized. The sheer volume of work necessary to complete this project makes it unlikely that it will be concluded on this schedule or for this amount of money. Look for additional money to be proposed in the 2013 legislative session.

Because the details are not finalized yet it is too early to tell whether the counties will be able to accomplish anything or what the final outcome might look like. Some of the potential concerns include the impact that new designations for farmland might have on the recently completed RPS plan in Jackson County; the current glut of residential properties in Josephine County and the impact that dumping more residential properties into the market might have on current property values; and the effect that further parcelization of and building on forest properties will have on county infrastructure costs and future fire suppression/fighting budgets as the state and federal governments are forced to protect more and more homes in forest areas. Finally, the impacts of short-term development opportunities replacing long term income from working farms and forest land in the region is unknown at this time.

1000 Friends of Oregon will be actively involved in this process from start to finish. Check back here in the future for more updates or opportunities to get involved.

For more information about the Pilot Project now, see the DLCD project website. Jackson County and Douglas County have also established project websites. (Josephine County has not yet established a public information process or website.) You can also contact Southern Oregon Advocate Greg Holmes at or 541.474.1155.

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