Douglas County government and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians submitted letters of interest to the State Land Board last week saying they would like to buy the Elliott State Forest.
In October, the State Land Board announced it wanted letters of interest from potential public owners of the forest. On Dec. 5, the county and the tribe submitted two of the seven letters of interest received by the Land Board in response.
The other letters were from Oregon State University College of Forestry; Coos County; the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians; the Oregon Department of Forestry; and the Raw Foundation.
Douglas County said it would like to purchase the forest, and the Cow Creek Tribe indicated it would like to purchase the land but doesn’t have enough money without a financial partner.
It’s the latest in a long saga over who should own and manage the forest, which was originally set aside for timber harvests to finance the Common School Fund. The state voted in February 2017 to sell the forest to the Cow Creek Tribe and Lone Rock Timber Management Company, but backed out a few months later and decided to keep the Elliott publicly owned.
Simmering resentment over that decision was clear in both tribe’s and the county’s Dec. 5 letters.
The tribe’s letter, penned by tribal Chairman Dan Courtney and CEO Michael Rondeau, said the Elliott was part of the land base that was taken from Native Americans more than 150 years ago. A purchase by the tribe would have helped restore its homeland and diversify its economic base, they said.
“It is unfortunate and offensive that the public narrative suggested that the Tribe was only superficially involved, serving as a front for a private timber company. That was not the case. We carefully chose a private partner who also has a record of sustainable forest management,” the tribe’s letter read. “There was no other means by which any Oregon tribe could finance a project like this.”
The state’s rejection of that previous proposal left the tribe with few options, the letter read.
“Our interest in the Elliott Forest has not waned. The simple truth is that the Cow Creek alone does not have the capital to purchase the forest. We also remain skeptical about dedicating time and money, as we did once before, to develop a proposal if there is another vision by DSL for how this land would transition to public ownership and management,” they said.
Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice wrote that the county wants to purchase the Elliott for $120.8 million. He wrote that the money would come from a combination of cash and funds accessed through the county’s bonding authorities.
The county, which already manages 4,400 acres of forestland, would manage the forest for sustained yield timber production. It would also preserve conservation values under a Habitat Conservation Plan and preserve public access, he wrote.
The county would be willing to partner with Coos County and the Cow Creek Tribe, and “remains fully supportive” of the tribe’s 2017 proposal, Boice said. He wrote that it’s “unclear why the Cow Creeks’ proposal was ever rejected.”
Local entities should manage the forest because they’ll be proactive and address economic, job and community interests as well as ecosystem health, he wrote.
“Presently, local constituents are very frustrated by the overall lack of management and progress on the Elliott State Forest, as well as its failure to contribute to the local economy. Putting the forest in the hands of local entities will help rebuild public trust,” Boice said.