Oregon’s attempt to sell off the Elliott State Forest has drawn only one bid.
Wednesday the Oregon Department of State Lands disclosed that the only bidder for the forest in Southwest Oregon was from a Roseburg Timber company. Lone Rock Timber Management submitted its bid in conjunction with the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians.
“We did not anticipate being the only proposal with the level of interest around the Elliott,” says Jake Gibbs of Lone Rock Timber.
The company offered to pay what thestate says the 82,000 acres of public lands in the Coast Range near Coos Bay is worth: $220.8 million. The move to sell the public lands has met with criticism and protest from conservation groups, sportsmen and public lands advocates.
The details of the Lone Rock Timber bid will not been released by the state until next week. The company posted the document on its website (PDF). According to the document, the company would contribute 87 percent of the equity, with the Cow Creek Band being the minority partner with a 13 percent contribution.
The forest is currently an asset in the Common School Fund, which annually distributes money to public schools in the state. Timber sales on the land benefit the fund, and the land is required to produce money under state rules. But in recent years, lawsuits accusing the state of failing to protect endangered species habitat have led to the suspension of many timber sales. Now the Forest is a net cost to the Common School Fund.
Under the Lone Rock offer, the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians will be paid though an endowment to oversee the operation and ensure conservation requirements are met.
“They will be responsible for making sure the land owner, the manager, us, actually meet those expectations,” Gibbs says.
The Conservation Fund, the Oregon State University College of Forestry, the Oregon Department of Forestry, a forestry consultant and two other tribal confederations will provide consultation on management of the land.
The Coquille Indian Tribe, whose ancestral lands include the Elliott State Forest, are not listed as partners in the bid.
Gibbs says the Lone Rock proposal would manage the Elliott under the same principles of their other private industrial timberland. That harvest relies heavily on clear cuts.
The fact that the Department of State Lands only received one bid is telling of the complicated nature of the sale. The state is requiring that 25 percent of the land be set aside for conservation and public access must be maintained on at least half the forest. There are also job creation requirements for the local community.
"It’s a unique protocol and process that the state has put in place. It requires… a diverse group of interest and expertise to meet all the requirements. It’s not an insignificant dollar amount,” Gibbs says.
That dollar amount is particularly high mountain to summit for conservation minded groups – especially given the short time frame of the sale.
“The process was really best suited for commercial timber interests,” say Brent Davies, Vice President of Forests and Ecosystem Services with Ecotrust.
The state didn’t release the fair market value of the forest until late July.
“In order to have $220 million ready to go in three months, you have to have deep pockets,” Davies says.
Ecotrust has submitted a letter to the Department of State Lands requesting an extension of Tuesday’s bid deadline that would allow conservation-minded groups time to secure necessary funds.
Davies says the state has not been specific enough in its conservation criteria for the sale, and a commercial owner may take advantage of those loopholes to cut old growth forests.
While the decision on the sale of the Elliott State Forest is ostensibly before the State Land Board - a three-member panel, made up of the governor, state treasurer and secretary of state – the fact that only one bid was submitted may change who gets the final say. If the Lone Rock/Cow Creek bid meets the sale requirements, then the Department of State Lands can make the deal without a vote of the Board.
The Department of State Lands says it is reviewing the offer. Public comment on the Elliott sale will be taken at the December 13th Land Board meeting. But it’s unknown yet who will make the final decision.