Photo by Ellen Miller

Monday, August 7, 2017

Elliott State Forest – Who would believe this???

Elliott State Forest – Who would believe this???

The Elliott State Forest in Southwestern Oregon is a sad reminder of how far off center public forest management has become. The Elliott, once the quintessential managed forest boasting spectacular, rugged scenery and home to a world class Douglas fir forest, is now destined to be mired in bureaucratic gridlock as elected officials have punted on a rational solution to this unique forest.

Previously, the Elliott provided millions of dollars to Oregon’s Common School Fund while generating a once reliable supply of timber for local forest product manufacturers and loggers. This resulted in thousands of family-wage local jobs.

The Perfect Storm of environmentalist litigation, bureaucratic incompetence and timid elected officials led to the current situation that has the State of Oregon selling $100 million in bonds to pay for half the value of the Elliott to the Common School Fund.

Meanwhile, the State Land Board, the Constitutional manager of the Elliott, has retained the Department of Forestry, ODF, to negotiate a Habitat Conservation Plan, HCP, with the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Wait, isn’t that how we got here?

ODF spent ten years in a failed try to negotiate an HCP with the Federal agencies. The futile effort led the SLB of John Kitzhaber, Kate Brown and Ted Wheeler to give up on the effort and adopt a modified Endangered Species Act strategy which led to litigation. The Department of Justice surrendered without a fight and paid the environmental non-profits $400,000.

The lack of timber revenue led to a failed attempt to sell the Elliott in order to meet their responsibilities to the CSF by the Kitzhaber-Brown-Wheeler SLB. Governor Kate Brown and new Treasurer Tobias Read flipped flopped over and over enough to torpedo the sale to Lone Rock Resources the only bidder for the $220.8 million Elliott.

Now we have Oregon spending twice as much in bonds to pay the CSF for half of the Elliott, all the while for a forest it already owns. It is only believable if own has witnessed the decades of twists and turns over the Elliott.

Let’s not forget that the Oregon State University School of Forestry is trying to raise $120 million to pay for the balance of the Elliott. Forestry Dean Thomas Maness wants to turn the once hard-working Elliott into a research/experimental forest to explore forest management and endangered species relationships.

Meanwhile, the CSF is on the hook for the forest and road management costs and fire protection assessments as ODF again tries to negotiate and implement an HCP. As we have seen for the past 25 years, nothing with the Elliott happens quickly. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

State Land Board: Delaying the inevitable?

Delaying the inevitable?
The State Land Board has delayed their decision on the proposed sale of the Elliott State Forest to Lone Rock Resources and two American Indian Tribes from April to May.  The delay allows Governor Kate Brown who was outvoted when new State Treasurer Tobias Read proposed amending the pending sale agreement to buy back $25 million worth of special recreational or environmental acres. New Secretary of State Dennis Richardson joined Read in supporting the sale.

Brown is trying to use $100 million in bonds to pay the Common School Fund for the Elliot, which Oregon already owns. That is less than half of the $220.8 million Lone Rock is willing to pay. The legislature would have to approve both Brown’s $100 million and Read’s $25 million. This is problematic since there is currently a $1.6 billion hole in the budget.

The Governor has enlisted the help of the Department of Forestry, ODF, to develop an option for the state to maintain the Elliott. ODF has managed the Elliott on behalf of the SLB since the Elliott became Oregon’s first State Forest in the 1930s. Funding for ODF’s management of the Elliott runs out on June 30th of this year.

In anticipation of not having the sale finalized and needing someone to care for the Elliott, the Department of State lands has issued a Request For Proposal for an interim manager of the forest. Yet another strange twist in the Elliott saga…

If the Governor is successful in rounding up $100 million, she still needs one more vote from the three-member board. Read has been under tremendous pressure from shocked environmentalists to change his position. Old time environmental advocates have come in from the hinter lands and have been seen in the Capitol Lobbying Read.

Read has proclaimed his responsibility is to Oregon’s school children to protect the value of the Common School Fund asset. John Charles, longtime follower of the Elliott, and President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute also calls for selling the Elliott in a recent OpEd. Charles pegged the value of the Elliott at $850 million in 1995. The current appraised value of $220.8 million reflects the restrictions the SLB has placed on the Elliott.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

New Members Overrule Governor

New Members Overrule Governor

The two new members of the State Land Board voted to move forward with the sale of the Elliott State Forest in SW Oregon. Secretary of State Dennis Richardson and State Treasurer Tobias Read Outvoted Governor Kate Brown in accepting Read’s motion to proceed forward with three amendments. Brown, clearly upset, directed the Department of State Lands to prepare an alternative to keep the Elliott in state ownership.

The SLB decision means that the $220.8 million sale to Lone Rock Timber Management Co., the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians and the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siskiyou Indians will proceed with the new conditions proposed by Treasurer Read.

The 84,000 acre Elliott State Forest has been the center of controversy following the adoption of a new land management plan in 2012. The SLB decided to sell the Elliott when it began costing the Common School Fund millions of dollars to maintain ownership of the forest. School interests, including school administrators and teachers. support selling the forest.

Fifty entities expressed interest in buying the Elliott. However, in 2016 Lone Rock and the two tribes were the only bidders.  Read called for using $25 million in bonding to buy back special conservation and recreation areas of the Elliott, adopting Forest Stewardship Council management prescriptions for parts of the Elliott with 250-year-old trees and allowing five Indian Tribes the first right of refusal should Lone Rock decide to sell any part of the Elliott.

What happens next is unclear. The SLB meets again in April. The legislature needs to approve the $25 million in bonding. Lone Rock needs to decide if the amendments that Read proposed are acceptable to them to move forward. Governor Brown will spend the next couple of months trying to undo the SLB action and keep the Elliott in state ownership.

Stay tuned.