SALEM – Oregon’s state Land Board voted 2-1 on Tuesday to sell the state’s oldest public forest.
Gov. Kate Brown, the board chair, clashed with its sole Republican member as she attempted to keep the preserve in public hands and at least delayed the sale.
Brown voted against the proposal and Secretary of State Dennis Richardson and State Treasurer Tobias Read said yes to selling the 82,500-acre Elliott State Forest to a logging firm and a tribal partner. Brown then ordered the director of the Department of State Lands to consider a public ownership plan and to present it at the next state land board meeting in April.
“Point of order,” Richardson, a Republican who holds the second-highest position in the state, told Brown. “I move to override the direction you just gave to the director because it’s contrary to the motion the land board just passed.”
“It is not contrary to the land board motion that just passed,” Brown replied in a packed room.
Richardson insisted on making the motion to override Brown’s order, but Read, a Democrat, stayed silent. With the motion having failed, Brown concluded the meeting with a bang of the gavel.
The proposed sale of Oregon’s oldest state forest has been in the works for years and has galvanized environmentalists across the state. There was only one bidder for the forest near Coos Bay whose price was set at $221 million: Lone Rock timber company, which would own 87 percent with its tribal partner, the Cow Creek band of Umpqua, owning the remaining 13 percent.
Brown said when the proposal was initiated, more offers were expected. The forest’s timber sales help fund Oregon schools, but the arrangement has been losing money in recent years.
“We should not be bound to a single proposal,” Brown said. “The importance of state-owned lands has increased as the future of federal public land has come into question.”
She advocated the state or the tribes own the land, possibly in partnership.
Read said it was his fiduciary responsibility to approve the sale. He proposed three amendments: that the state be allowed to repurchase up to $25 million in acreage for recreational public access; that forest management principals be included in the agreement; and that any of the five federally recognized Western Oregon tribes be given the right of first refusal.
“I don’t make this motion with any particular sense of celebration,” said Read, who like Richardson is new in his job, having been elected in November. “But it’s my best attempt to try to balance … my obligation as a fiduciary and to live up to … schoolkids in Oregon.”
Richardson said it would be unethical to say no after the proposal was formulated and the bid made, at cost to the state government and to the bidder.
“You keep your promise, and it’s up to the state to do that,” Richardson said.
Brown wants a bond proposal developed to include up to $100 million in state bonding capacity to protect high-value habitat, including old-growth stands. Under her plan, a portion of the forest would be decoupled from the Common School Fund trust lands that fund Oregon schools. The harvesting of timber would be allowed while protecting endangered and threatened species.
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