SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Friday she was against the proposed sale of a state forest filled with old-growth timber to a logging concern and an Indian tribe, an issue that has galvanized environmentalists across the state.
In a jammed public meeting in December, speaker after speaker who had arrived from cities, towns and farms beseeched the State Land Board to reject the sale of the 82,500-acre Elliott State Forest to Lone Rock Timber Co. and its tribal partners.
Brown, one of three members of the State Land Board, said Friday she believes the forest in the Coastal Range should “remain in public ownership, with either the state or tribes owning the land.” Though she said the state should change the way it owns and manages the forest, whose timber sales help fund Oregon schools and which has been losing money in recent years.
Besides Brown, the other two members of the board are Secretary of State Dennis Richardson and State Treasurer Tobias Reed. Both Richardson, a Republican, and Reed, a Democrat, assumed office in January. A State Land Board meeting next Tuesday will be their first.
Richardson was visiting the forest near Coos Bay on Friday and was talking with stakeholders, his spokesman Michael Calcagno said in a telephone interview. Richardson is still “weighing positions” and has not yet made his own determination, Calcagno said.
Reed was traveling on Friday and was unavailable for immediate comment.
Bob Van Dyk, of the Wild Salmon Center, which aims to protect wild salmon rivers, said he is heartened by Brown’s position.
“It’s positive,” he said. “We have been against selling it.”
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 which fund Oregon schools. Timber harvest would be allowed while protecting endangered and threatened species.
Van Dyk said it appears to be similar to a model used successfully in Washington state, to “decouple the sensitive lands with high values and then actively manage the remaining lands for revenue.”
Brown said after the state adopted a protocol to sell the state’s first public forest, its appraised value was $221 million.
“We know the Elliott is worth far more to Oregon’s children than $221 million,” Brown said. “By investing in and protecting the highest quality habitat … we are protecting marbled murrelets, owls, and coho salmon.
“At the same time, sustainable forestry management on the remainder of the land can generate continued financial returns for Oregon schools,” she added.
Lone Rock, based in Roseburg, was the sole bidder for the forest with its tribal partner. A company official had said it was confident it could turn a profit by extracting at least 35 million board feet per year from the forest while providing protections for older forests and streams and providing jobs. The state has not logged nearly that amount in recent years, at least in part because of environmental protections and lawsuits.
The governor said that under her plan, the timber harvest is expected to average about 20 million board feet per year over the long term.
The sale of the forest was proposed because timber harvest revenues that go into a school fund have dropped in recent years.
At that December public meeting, some school board representatives backed the sale, saying the $221 million should go into the Common School Fund.
After years of being profitable since 1997, net revenue from the forest fell from $5.8 million in 2012 to losses of $3.3 million in 2013 and $1.8 million in 2014, the Oregon Department of State Lands says. But 2015 saw gains. This year through 2019 are expected to be borderline.
The Elliott is an “informational item” on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting in which the Department of State Lands will update the land board on the status of discussions of the proposed sale.
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