Representatives of timber and tribes teamed together and on Nov. 15 submitted the only bid to purchase the Elliott State Forest from the state.
Since then, the Oregon Department of State Lands deemed this proposal, from the local Lone Rock Timber Management Company, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians and the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, to be responsive to its requirements for the sale. The State Land Board plans to make a decision on the sale on Dec. 13.
Cow Creek decided to reach out to Lone Rock to set up the plan, as the tribe was concerned that out-of-state investment companies would buy the local timberland without consideration for habitat management or recreational opportunities.
“For the tribe it’s cultural, it’s their homeland, so every acre they gain is an acre of lands they’re restoring and they’ll have those forever,” said Tim Vredenburg, director of forest management for Cow Creek. He added that Lone Rock is the tribe’s best partner for managing timberland.
The state was mandated to use revenue from timber harvests on the Elliott for the State Common School Fund, but has instead been losing money on managing the forest. The sale of the Elliott for $220.8 million will go toward supporting local schools through the fund.
The proposal meets the State Lands’ requirements of purchasing the entire 82,500 acres of the Elliott, inland from the Coos and Douglas county coastlines, to be managed for timber harvest, creating 40 full-time jobs for 10 years, leaving at least 41,250 acres for public recreational access and 20,625 acres of habitat to be protected from harvest.
“We allowed the biologist that works for the tribe and biologist with Lone Rock, working with conservation partners, to identify the most valuable parts of the forest for sensitive species and we let those species tell us where to place that 25 percent,” Vredenburg said.
The marbled murrelet, the spotted owl and coho salmon are the primary drivers for habitat protection, but deer and elk are also priorities.
The plan also describes the uses and restrictions for riparian management areas and identifies how the conservation easement will be enforced by the holder, in this case, The Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians.
“Any management within 120 feet [of the river] has to contribute to improving the aquatic system, so if it doesn’t help the fish it doesn’t happen,” Vredenburg said.
Jake Gibbs, director of external affairs for Lone Rock, said he looks at the requirements as a minimum and hopes to do more to enhance the public benefits going forward.
In the creation of the plan, Gibbs and Vredenburg received advice and support from The Conservation Fund, Dr. John Gordon, the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, the Oregon Department of Forestry, The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians and The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde.
“If I were to step back and look at this, I would hope it would be this group that came together, an Oregon-based, family-owned business working with tribes, with guidance and advice from a conservation group that has experience with complicated land deals,” Gibbs said, adding that the parties involved have track records for providing jobs in the timber industry while allowing for public access and protections of older forests and streams.
However, other groups such as the environmentalist organization Cascadia Wildlands do not support the plan.
Wildlands Campaign Director Robin Meacher said the proposal would pretty much privatize the entire Elliott Forest, while Cascadia Wildlands has been advocating for the forest to remain public and managed for recreation as well as ecological and conservation values.
“Unfortunately, the proposal that Lone Rock put forward doesn’t meet that and we don’t think it meets the state requirements either,” Meacher said. She said that she thinks Lone Rock will charge heavy public access fees and not do enough to protect habitat for sensitive species.
However, Gibbs said all property managed by Lone Rock is free for the public to explore.
“Lone Rock has a long history of public access on our lands,” he said. “It’s open to the public.”
“The proposal itself just didn’t hold enough detail to show how the public values would be enforced and how old growth forest would be protected,” Meacher added. “There is a solution for the Elliott going forward, and it’s going to take more than this proposal and what the state has done so far.”
While Cascadia Wildlands does not currently have a proposal, the group is considering the legislative option of a trust land transfer concept as seen in Washington.
A trust land transfer would provide funds for transferring the land from state trust ownership to a public agency that could manage the property for revenues to benefit the Common School Fund.
Gibbs said Lone Rock is not advocating for public land to become privatized.
“Lone Rock recognizes the value of public lands in Oregon, and we advocated that Elliott should stay in public management,” he said. However, the state couldn’t manage the forest and still provide revenue to schools, he said, but the sale of the forest would benefit local schools and give Lone Rock and the tribes an opportunity to manage the land according to the state’s guidelines.
“Working with us can actually provide all those benefits long term,” Gibbs said.
Meacher said there’s no getting around the fact that there are endangered species in the forest, and the state is bound by its obligations to protect them. Managing habitat protection and timber production is possible, she said, but she doesn’t think it has been done.
“For folks that have concerns, I respect those concerns but I think this is an untried coalition and deserves some space to work,” Gibbs said. “What I would hope is people take a minute and breathe and see who it is who wrote the proposal and what our history is.”
More details will be further developed during the next phase of the protocol framework, according to the State Lands website. The department plans to update the State Land Board at the Dec. 13 meeting, when the board will hear public comment and make a decision on the purchase. A notice for the Land Board’s Dec. 13 meeting will be issued statewide on Dec. 6.
“We want Oregon to appreciate what the Land Board did and see this as a really positive thing,” Vredenburg said.
Vredenburg said if this acquisition doesn’t go through, the alternatives that have been discussed include having the land auctioned off without public benefits.
“We think this is a better solution for Oregon,” he said.