KEIZER — As an alternative to a plan to sell a large chunk of coastal state forest, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown proposed Tuesday that the state use up to $100 million of its bonding authority to pay into the Common School Fund and relieve a portion of the Elliott State Forest of some of its fiduciary responsibility to the fund.
The Common School Fund has long provided revenues from state trust lands such as the Elliott State Forest for K-12 education.
The state says that the Elliott has, due to the recent imposition of increased timber harvesting restrictions, become a liability to the fund instead of an asset.
Brown’s proposal followed hours of impassioned public testimony over the proposed sale of 82,500 acres of the Elliott State Forest, which is home to endangered species. She’d previously hinted at the option in a tweet when she released her budget Dec. 1.
The proposed sale of the forest to a timber company and an Oregon Indian tribe mobilized the state’s environmental groups, who wanted to keep the land in public hands.
Over 40 entities formally expressed interest in the land — including some public agencies — but only one acquisition plan was submitted in time for the mid-November deadline.
The governor also directed the Department of State Lands to continue discussions with the prospective buyers — Lone Rock Resources of Roseburg and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians.
The governor implored those gathered at the meeting to collaborate on a second option that would decouple “both the purpose and the ownership of the Elliott.”
She said she believed that option should keep the land in state or tribal ownership, which could include the aspects of the acquisition proposal submitted by Lone Rock and the Cow Creek Band — including tribal and private forest management.
In remarks at the conclusion of the land board’s meeting Tuesday afternoon, Brown said it is important to preserve the state’s beaches, forests and “open spaces,” but also stated her support for natural resource jobs.
“I am absolutely adamant that we need to continue to create jobs, particularly in Coos and Douglas counties,” where the acreage in question is located, Brown said. “I am adamant that we need to continue to maintain public access, and I think for many of us that looks very different depending on whose, which types of shoes we walk in, and that we preserve our endangered species and our very unique habitats.”
Brown said she expected the department to return to the State Land Board at its next meeting in February before finalizing an offer and purchase and sale agreement with Lone Rock, and implored those gathered at the meeting to work collaboratively to specify an alternative for the State Land Board to consider.
When the State Land Board convenes again in two months to do so, it will have a different composition — Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins and Treasurer Ted Wheeler, both Democrats, are finishing terms.
They will be replaced, respectively, by Republican Dennis Richardson and Democrat Tobias Read, both of whom have served in the Oregon Legislature.
Brown also directed the Department of State Lands to clarify, among other things, how the public benefit requirements under the proposal submitted by Lone Rock and the Cow Creek Band would be enforced under the acquisition plan.
If they acquire the forest, Lone Rock and the Cow Creek Band must maintain public access on half the land, maintain 25 percent of old forest stands and preserve riparian areas; they must also provide 40 direct or indirect jobs for a decade.
The price of the forest was set at $220.8 million by an appraiser in July.
Lone Rock and the Cow Creek Band have said that the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians would hold a conservation easement on the land and receive assistance from a Virginia group, the Conservation Fund, to uphold the public benefits requirements. Environmental groups and individuals have voiced skepticism about the plan.
In a staff report released last week, the Department of State Lands noted that while that plan submitted by Lone Rock and the Cow Creek Band was financially viable, there are outstanding details about the proposal — including firm identification of who would hold the conservation easement — that need to be clarified.