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Forest sale vote brings protest to Keizer

Aiyana and Oliver Gonzales, of Walton, Ore., deliver speeches to protesters before a meeting to discuss selling the Elliott State Forest Tuesday, Dec. 13. The pair also testified against the sale during a public hearing on the matter. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)
Aiyana and Oliver Gonzales, of Walton, Ore., deliver speeches to protesters before a meeting to discuss selling the Elliott State Forest Tuesday, Dec. 13. The pair also testified against the sale during a public hearing on the matter. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

A hearing by the Oregon State Land Board regarding the potential sale of a state forest in southwest Oregon drew protests outside Keizer Civic Center Tuesday, Dec. 13.

The board, consisting of Gov. Kate Brown, Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins and State Treasurer Ted Wheeler were expected to make a decision whether to proceed with the sale of Elliott State Forest to a private company, but delayed a vote after hearing from more than 80 people during public testimony.

Prior to the 10 a.m. meeting, Oregon residents representing cities and regions up and down the Interstate 5 corridor gathered outside Keizer Civic Center to sing, chant and voice opposition to the sale.

The land board is considering the sale of the forest because it has become a drag on Oregon’s Common School Fund. Elliott State Forest was consolidated in the early 1900s to generate long-term funding through managed timber harvests. However, in recent years, due to renewed focus on endangered species that call the forest home – including the northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet and Coho salmon – maintenance and management costs have exceeded what the forest can generate. The result is that money intended for use in the schools is being used for the forest.

State officials began investigating the sale of the forest in 2014 and the end result was one bid on the property valued at $220.8 million.

The bid came from a joint venture between Roseburg’s Lone Rock Timber Management Company and the Umpqua Indian Development Corporation (UIDC). However, Lone Timber would be the dominant force in the deal providing more than 87 percent of the equity investment. The UIDC’s stake amounts to 12.97 percent.

Jim Paul, director of the Department of State Lands, said his staff suggested approval to move forward with the sale despite some reservations about the details that still needed to be hammered out.

One major unanswered issue would be which of the two parties would maintain control of the easements permitting public access in about half of the 93,000 acre forest in perpetuity. Another revolved around possible adjustments to Harvest Protection Areas that shield older growth from cutting.

Michael Rondeau, CEO of the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, said that the sale represented at least a partial restitution for broken treaties of the 1850s and tribal termination in the 1950s.

“The tribe never received a reservation that the treaty of 1853 promised, and it has spent the last 34 years working on land restoration,” Rondeau said.

Chief Warren Brainard of the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw, said the easements would be held by the tribe.

“The tribe will work in collaboration with key players. We will work hard to make sure it is responsibly and sustainably managed,” he said.

During public testimony, the overwhelming majority spoke against the sale as bad judgement and dangerous precedent.

“Selling now sets a precedent for future land sales. Privatization would be a failure of our government. Do we just give and say we are incapable? What message does it send to the Bundys? What assets do we sell next?” questioned Portland’s John Peterson.

“In the face of previous sale attempts, courts have upheld environmental protections. If the courts judge in protection of the environment as vital, why are you trying to sidestep the laws you have sworn to protect?” asked Christina Hubbard of Cottage Grove.

Eugene biologist Aaron Nelson said the permit process that would become part of the future public use was worrisome.

“They will allow public access to parts, but citizens will be be required to get a permit. Even with the permit, citizens will not be able to look for endangered species in the area,” Nelson said.

Opponents suggested finding ways to uncouple the forest from the Common School Fund or investigating the sale of carbon credits as a way to overcome the recent revenue shortfalls.

Several individuals representing school-related organizations, such as the Oregon Education Association and the Confederation of School Administrators, offered full-throated support of the sale as did representatives of some county commissions in the areas around Elliott State Forest.

There were also those who walked a tighter line of support. Tribal rights advocate Se-ah-dom Edmo said she counted herself among the environmentalists in attendance, but asked those opposing the sale to look at the details.

“This land is returning to the hands of tribes who suffered termination. When it comes right down to it, your position is aligned with the entitled settler mentality you claim to be fighting against,” Edmo said.