The Oregon and California Railroad Revested Lands, known as the O&C Lands, lie in a checkerboard pattern through eighteen counties of western Oregon. These lands contain more than 2.4 million acres of forests with a diversity of plant and animal species, recreation areas, mining claims, grazing lands, cultural and historical resources, scenic areas, wild and scenic rivers, and wilderness. Most of the O&C lands are administered by the Bureau of Land Management.
The history of the O&C lands goes back to 1866 when Congress established a land grant to promote rapid completion of the Oregon section of the Portland to San Francisco railroad. The Oregon and California Railroad company was deeded about 12,800 acres per mile of track laid, providing incentive to complete the railroad. The land grant required the company to sell 160 acre parcels at no more than $2.50 an acre to qualified settlers. In 1916, Congress took back the title on more than 2 million acres of these lands after the company failed to sell the land to settlers. Three years later, Congress revested 93,000 acres of Coos Bay Wagon Road grant lands due to similar circumstances.
The Oregon and California Revested Lands Sustained Yield Management Act of 1937 put the O&C lands under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The lands were classified as timberlands to be managed for permanent forest production, and the timber was to be sold, cut, and removed in conformity with the principle of sustained yield for the purpose of providing a permanent source of timber supply. The Act also provided for protecting watersheds, regulating stream flow, contributing to the economic stability of local communities and industries, and providing recreational facilities.
Coos Bay Wagon Road Lands
The Coos Bay Wagon Road (CBWR) Land Grant of 1869 was created to provide a military road from Roseburg to Coos Bay. In 1919, Congress passed the Coos Bay Wagon Road Revestment Act—which revested 93,063 acres of the lands previously granted. The Oregon and California Revested Lands Sustained Yield Management Act of August 28, 1937 gave the General Land Office even more conservation responsibilities. The revested lands had been granted in 1866 to the Oregon and California (O&C) Railroad Company for construction of a line from Portland to the California border. Congress stipulated in 1869 that the 3.7 million acres granted the railroad had to be sold in tracts no larger than 160 acres to actual settlers and for no more than $2.50 an acre. The company and its successors ignored the conditions; so, in 1916, after lengthy litigation, Congress revoked title to more than two million acres of the grant. In 1919, the federal government reclaimed another 93,000 acres from the nearby Coos Bay Wagon Road Grant.
In 1939, the Coos Bay Wagon Road Act of 1939 became law and established an in-lieu tax payment program for Coos Bay Wagon Road Grant Lands within Coos and Douglas Counties. Payments to the counties were not calculated as a percentage of receipts but rather the amount of lost tax revenue. The county assessors prepared a “bill” for taxes that was presented to the BLM, certified by the Secretary of Interior, and paid by the Treasury Department.
The Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1993 created a “safety net” of special payments for O&C counties including the CBWR lands. The special payments replaced in-lieu tax payments from fiscal year 1994 to 1998, consequently suspending the CBWR in-lieu tax payment program.
In 2000, the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act provided O&C counties with the option to receive "Full Payment" (equal to the average of three-year high payments) or a "50 Percent payment" (actual in-lieu tax payments) for Title II and Title III projects in each county. Coos and Douglas Counties elected for a 15/85 split (15 percent for Title II and II and 85 percent for direct payment to the counties).