Salem, OR—During the August 2015 Land Board meeting, Governor Kate Brown proposed to sell the Elliott State Forest. The two former members of the Board, Secretary of State Jeanne P. Atkins and State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, both agreed to the sale.
Fast forward to last November's election. The Land Board has two new members and potential buyers have placed their bid, complying with all the requirements of the offer to sell. When the Board met in February 2017 to discuss the sale, I, as a new member of the Board, expressly stated that had I been on the Land Board in 2015, I would have voted against the sale. However, State Treasurer Tobias Read and I voted to honor the bargain the previous Board had struck. My dad was an honest man who taught me that a deal is a deal, and a handshake should be as good as any lawyer's 50-page contract. To me, the ethical action for the Land Board was to make good on the Governor's offer to sell, even though I believed there were better ways to maximize the forest to serve the needs of Oregonians. When it became clear that a sale was no longer possible, Oregon needed to find a new path forward.
I have a three year-old granddaughter named Rose. She lives in Oregon close to Grandma and Grandpa. To me, the Elliott Forest is Rose's forest. It is her forest to hike in, camp in, and enjoy for the rest of her life. It is part of the legacy we'll leave to her generation. Grandpas watch out for their grandchildren and because I'm a grandpa, I feel an obligation to watch out for all of Oregon's grandchildren.
In addition to the promise of beautiful public lands, Oregon made another promise to Rose and to every other child in this state. In our state's Constitution, we promise all Oregon children a quality education. We are failing miserably.
All of our children deserve an equal opportunity to grow, learn, and flourish. In our pledge to the flag we promise “liberty and justice for all” yet, when it comes to educating our children, we fail to provide either.
We must do better. We can keep and conserve the Elliott Forest for future generations, while investing in the real future of Oregon—our children's education.
In order to keep the Elliott in public hands, the Governor and the Treasurer both want to borrow $100 million to purchase a part of the forest from the Common School Fund. It makes no sense to borrow $100 million to buy a forest we already own. To do so would require payments of $7 million from the General Fund for the next 25 years. Instead of indebting our grandchildren, let's consider an alternative that makes better sense.
In 2014, the Land Board received the “Elliott State Forest Alternatives Project Final Report” ( Appendix A
) from the Department of State Lands. The Department's report recommended four options for the Elliott, including a land exchange. The report citied research from an independent, outside report: “ Options For The Monetization of The Elliott State …
.” This report considered several viable alternatives for making the Elliott Forest productive. It was part of the basis for the Land Board's August 2015 decision to sell (privatize) the forest. Page three of the report states:
“Based on our findings, we have determined three major viable options for the ESF. The first viable option includes the full privatization of the ESF. The second viable option is a land exchange between the federal government and the state government. The federal government would receive control of the ESF in exchange for less controversial federally-owned land that could be developed and monetized for Oregon schools. The last viable option consists of successfully negotiating a renewed Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) with federal agencies.”
Given the first viable option of the protocol-for-sale was terminated yesterday, I believe we should move to the second “viable option” and explore a land exchange with the federal government.
Below are two maps. The first shows the Elliott Forest near Coos Bay and other state forests in green, and the second shows federally-managed forests in red.
The federal map reminds us that more than half of Oregon is forestland, and 60% of that forestland is under federal management.
The land exchange alternative could accomplish all of the following:
Avoid incurring $100 million in debt which will cost nearly $200 million due to expensive interest rates and fees.
Ensure the Elliott Forest will remain in public ownership.
Provide timberlands away from endangered species and old-growth trees, so that we will generate maximum revenue for Oregon public schools.
Enable commercial-grade timber to be harvested, replanted, and harvested again for our great-grandchildren some 60-80 years in the future. Our forests truly are a renewable resource.
From October 2004 to June 2008, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service processed 250 land exchanges. Historically, such land exchanges take at least two years to process. Recent examples exist in California, Minnesota, and Utah.
In conclusion, the 2014 detailed Final Report on “ Options For The Monetization of The Elliott State …
” found that the best choice to generate revenue for the Common School Fund was to privatize the Elliott. Since that option has been eliminated, the next recommended choice is to exchange protected, old-growth timberlands in the Elliott for unencumbered, new-growth, commercial timber acreage from the vast inventory of federally managed timberlands in Oregon.
I do not support a plan that relies on borrowing $100 million to buy a forest we already own. I'm ready to assist the Department of State Lands in negotiating with the federal government for the land exchange. Doing so will accomplish both goals—preserving the Elliott Forest in public hands and meeting the constitutional obligation to generate revenue for public education with Oregon's state lands. Time will tell whether one or both of the other Land Board members agree.
State and Federal maps of Forest from Oregonforests.org