Oregon Gov. Kate Brown released her proposal Thursday for keeping the Elliott State Forest in public ownership rather than selling it to the highest bidder.
The State Land Board tried to sell the forest near Oregon's south coast at an appraised value of $220.8 million dollars. But last year’s sale process drew just one bidder, a partnership led by Lone Rock Timber and the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Indians.
With just one bidder and environmental groups protesting the sale, Brown reconsidered and offered an alternative plan involving a $100 million state-backed bond. Thursday's proposal is the latest variation of an idea she first presented last winter.
The forest is held in the Common School Fund, which requires the state to use the land to make money for schools.
But that hasn’t been happening, in part because of logging restrictions to protect endangered species.
The governor’s plan would use bonds to buy a portion of the forest out of the Common School Fund and protect it. The rest of the forest would be open to logging to raise money for schools. Those areas open to logging would be subject to a federal Habitat Conservation Plan, which allows for some impacts to threatened and endangered species while protecting the state from lawsuits.
Jim Green, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association, said he's still reviewing the plan and has been summoned to the governor's office to discuss it.
Earlier this week, the Oregon School Boards Association sent a letter to the governor threatening to sue unless the state’s plan for the Elliott is certain to make the Common School Fund whole.
"I’m hopeful the plan the governor put forward accomplishes that," Green said. "We’d like not to have to go through litigation. It’s costly. It doesn’t create good will across the state."
Conservation groups praised the governor for finding a way to protect valuable forest habitat.
"At a time when there are intense interests nationally to privatize public lands, we are deeply grateful for the governor’s vision and leadership to keep the Elliott State Forest public," Josh Laughlin with Cascadia Wildlands said in a statement. "This approach will ensure Oregonians can continue to access its great outdoors and that the Elliott's salmon and wildlife habitat are safeguarded into the future.”
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