- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 9, 2014

SALEM, Ore (AP) - The state of Oregon is looking for an unusual buyer for Elliott State Forest - someone willing to pay a good price, respect the needs of threatened fish and wildlife, and leave areas open to hikers and hunters.

At a meeting Tuesday, the State Land Board directed its staff to develop a proposal to elicit offers from public or public-private entities to buy the 90,000-acre forest in the Coast Range.

Parties could include the federal government, a tribe, state agency or local government.

Board spokeswoman Julie Curtis said a purchase proposal could be ready in time for the board’s June meeting.

The board - comprised of the governor, secretary of state and state treasurer - is looking for a way to maximize forest revenue to benefit schools. But court rulings upholding protections for threatened birds and salmon have stymied timber sales.

Revenue from Elliott State Forest once contributed up to $8 million a year for schools but has turned into a $3 million expense.

Bob Ragon of Douglas Timber Operators said he was disappointed the board did not endorse a proposal from his organization that would keep the forest as a Common School Fund asset while seeking someone to manage it to produce timber for sale and meets environmental laws.

“It could take them a long time to get that sorted out,” he said about the board decision to sell the forest. “I don’t know how much time they really have.”

Josh Laughlin of the conservation group Cascadia Wildlands said the board’s choice fit within his group’s vision for the forest, decoupling it from the Common School Fund while maintaining conservation value.

He said a potential buyer could be a public land trust - a nonprofit organization that raises money to buy property then turns it over to a public entity.

“I think they have come to the realization that clear-cutting older forest to fund schoolchildren doesn’t work any longer,” Laughlin said. “They need to get creative to meet their fiduciary mandate and work within the public interest.”


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