Thank goodness two members of the State Land Board kept their heads last week when pushed to decide between a last-minute change of heart by the governor and moving ahead with the Elliott Forest sale.
Lone Rock Timber Management Company, the Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe and the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians have worked hard to craft a management proposal that jumps through all the hoops the state set when it put 82,500 acres of Common School Lands in the forest up for sale. It’s a plan that sets aside a quarter of the forest for conservation, while managing the rest in a way that creates jobs, protects watersheds and allows for public recreation.
Sure, it would be great for the public to own the forest forever. But the problem is the state seemed unable to use the land for the express purpose for which it was set aside. That purpose was to harvest timber to generate revenue for the Common School Fund.
We all know our schools need the money, but continually mired in lawsuits and indecision, the state failed to do what was necessary to convert the forest’s timberlands into a steady stream of cash to help our kids.
So the land board decided in 2015 that its best solution was to sell the land and let someone else manage it. The sale would come with conditions designed to protect the multiple uses of the forest, including conservation and recreation. The state would get $221 million for the schools, and lose the headache of managing the timber or fighting groups that tried to stop them from doing it.
No doubt, they hoped a conservation group would step up to buy the forest. But that’s not what happened. Instead, a local timber company and local tribes combined efforts to buy it. That’s a pretty good outcome, we think. The people running the place will consider it their own backyard, and we suspect they’ll treat it as such. Meanwhile, they’ll be creating about 40 new jobs.
Gov. Kate Brown didn’t like the Lone Rock plan. So last minute, on Friday, she announced a radical new plan to keep the forest in state ownership. It included a $100 million bond levy to finance keeping much of the land out of timber harvests, among other things.
The people who had put together the plan to buy the Elliott were shocked. They’d worked very hard to create a proposal that valued multiple uses of the forest, to make space for marbled murrelets and hikers, cool streams for salmon and good jobs for loggers. And on Friday, Brown appeared poised to pull the rug out from under them.
Fortunately the other two members of the board — State Treasurer Tobias Read and Secretary of State Dennis Richardson — weren’t swayed. Instead, they outvoted Brown 2 to 1 to move forward with the sale. Read made a couple of amendments to the sale, including one that allows the state to buy back a portion of the land for $25 million and set it aside for conservation.
If there’s one thing we do well here, it’s grow trees. Our forests are large, and we believe they are roomy enough to make space for conservation and for harvests.
The Elliott sale process isn’t yet finished. More hoops lie ahead. But we hope this moderate, carefully crafted plan succeeds and becomes a model for other projects in the future.