Elliott forest purchase plan meets initial criteria

SALEM — The Department of State Lands says the sole plan to acquire an 82,500-acre parcel of the Elliott State Forest meets the department’s initial criteria for acquisition.

A spokeswoman for the department said in an email that some details were not “fully developed and will need to be worked out” during the next phase of the acquisition process.

The plan is part of a process that the Department of State Lands has developed to sell the section of the Elliott State Forest.

The department is responsible for managing the land to generate revenue for the Common School Fund, a state K-12 education fund.

Since 2013, the fund has lost money, and as the holder of fiduciary responsibility for the fund, the state says it has to sell the land. It cites lawsuits that challenged its logging on Common School Fund lands where protected animal species live.

The land is not being sold for a competitive bid but for the fixed price of $220.8 million.

Lone Rock Resources, a Roseburg timber company, was the only entity to submit an acquisition plan by the department’s Nov. 15 deadline. A $100,000 deposit was required.

If Lone Rock’s plan is approved by the Land Board, the company intends to partner with the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians to manage the land, according to documents released by the state lands department Tuesday.

Lone Rock will contribute about 87 percent of the equity, while Cow Creek will contribute about 13 percent. Although Cow Creek will have minority interests in an LLC formed to provide the capital to buy the forest, the Cow Creek band will have the right to participate in votes on “major decisions.”

The Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, assisted by the nonprofit The Conservation Fund, would hold a conservation easement to enforce the four public benefit requirements of the sale.

The public benefits are as follows: that the public have recreational access to half the forest, that 25 percent of old stands remain, that riparian areas are preserved and that the plan create 40 “direct or indirect” jobs for a decade.

Environmental groups have opposed the sale of the land to a private entity and have advocated for keeping it in public hands.

Under a proposed easement agreement, Elliott Forest LLC would reimburse the easement holder up to $5,000 annually for the cost of an independent third-party auditor to verify the promised employment.

The LLC needs to report harvest levels to the Oregon Department of Revenue every year, and those reports can be provided to the easement holder, “with the goal of eliminating the need for audits” if the easement holder — which would be the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians — is satisfied by those reports, according to a draft copy of a proposed employment monitoring easement.

Josh Laughlin, the director of Cascadia Wildlands, a conservation nonprofit in Eugene that’s been one of the leading voices opposing the sale, argued that Lone Rock’s current plan would allow it to clearcut old growth.

“The Lone Rock proposal would ultimately privatize the Elliott State Forest and lock the public out by charging fees to recreate,” Laughlin wrote in an email Tuesday. “And their strategy to protect old trees is toothless. It would allow the timber company to clearcut the remaining valuable old-growth by protecting a subset of younger forest.”

He called on Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, one of the three members of the State Land Board, to oppose the sale.

Jake Gibbs, director of external affairs for Lone Rock, said that the company’s conservation strategy was intended to be “sustainable” and to provide all of the required public benefits while harvesting timber.

He said the company will not know how much board-feet or how many trees it will harvest every year until the company’s foresters “have time to do additional study.”

He said Lone Rock, in partnership with the multiple tribes proposing to manage the land, would be held accountable “now and in the future.”

Gov. Brown is one of three elected officials on the State Land Board.

Treasurer Ted Wheeler and Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins are leaving their offices at the end of the year.

They will be replaced, respectively, by Treasurer-elect Tobias Read, a Democrat and state representative, and Secretary of State-elect Dennis Richardson, a Republican and former state legislator.

The State Land Board is scheduled to make a decision on whether to move forward with the sale at its Dec. 13 meeting. The state lands department is expected to release a staff report on the acquisition plan one week prior to that meeting.

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