By Nick Perry-Guetti
On February 14th, in Salem, OR, the Oregon State Land Board (SLB) in a public hearing voted 2-1 for sale of the Elliot State Forest (a public land trust attached to the state’s Common School Fund (CSF), and comprising some 83,000 acres of beautiful, ecologically diverse forest rich in old growth and known to be habitat for federally threatened species) jointly to Lone Rock Timber, a private timber company, and the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe. The SLB consists of Oregon Governor Kate Brown (D), Secretary of State Dennis Richardson (R), and Treasurer Tobias Read (D). Brown, who favors an option for continued public ownership of Elliot that still allows for logging, cast the dissenting vote. The sale is not finalized, awaiting another meeting set for April 11th.
The hearing was attended by activists who testified in support of keeping the Elliott Forest public. Green Party members from the Lane Greens and Linn/Benton chapters carpooled to Salem to attend the hearing.
The vote came as a surprise to many wishing to keep the Elliott Forest public, as many expected Treasurer Read to vote with Governor Brown. According to a February 15th article in the Statesman-Journal, Read issued a statement describing the decision as “not easy”, but necessary to provide schools with adequate funding and children with “the world-class education they deserve”. The article says that the sale price of $220 million was set in August, and that “Lone Rock submitted the only bid”, but fails to mention that the price was fixed, and that “bidding” refers only to the public benefits package timber companies would be willing to provide for the community. Asked to comment on this, Secretary Richardson’s Communications Director Michael Calcagno said that although the article’s wording concerning the nature of the bid might be slightly misleading, the statement was essentially true.
It remains unclear why the sale is necessary. CSF data indicates less than 1% of the Fund comes from the Elliot, and funding has remained constant over the years in spite of fluctuating timber sales; further, the CSF is far from endangered as it now stands. “Oregon just voted overwhelmingly to support the Fund,” Beeken said at a University of Oregon presentation on February 1st ( sponsored by the Lane Greens chapter and Coast Range Forest Watch), "granting the CSF a huge $1.2 billion windfall”. Also virtually untouched at the meeting was the issue of legality of the sale, apparently prohibited under Oregon Revised Statute 530.450, although one unidentified attendee who gave testimony is said to have mentioned the issue.
However, the story is not over. The decision is due to be finalized at a SLB meeting Tuesday, April 11th; Governor Brown, by all accounts, is quite dissatisfied with the Feb. 14th meeting and its results, and has publicly signaled an interest in alternate plans. Call Governor Brown (503.378.4582) in support.
Also contact Secretary Richardson (503.986.1523) and Treasurer Read (503.378.4329), and ask them how the privatization of a public land trust is legal or necessary, given State data that the CSF has no need of it. For more information, contact Coast Range Forest Watch and visit savetheelliott.com.
Speak true (especially to Democratic Treasurer Tobias Read!), take power. Save the Elliott!