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Oregon considers, forgoes buying forest

90,000 acres in Klamath and Lake counties are up for sale, but the state can't meet the bidding deadline
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The state of Oregon in recent weeks considered purchasing 90,000 acres of forest in Klamath and Lake counties to add to its holdings but concluded it could not assemble a bid by the Sept. 15 deadline.

State Forester Marvin Brown said research into the purchase offered a chance to gauge local support and identified potential financial backing from conservation groups.

The move represents a new initiative by the Department of Forestry to seek out forestlands for possible state ownership to guard them against development and maintain the economic benefits from logging they support, an idea first floated by the governor's staff.

The tract of private forest, which includes pine plantations laced with meadows and trout streams, is the type of land that interests state officials, Brown said. It has potential for producing timber and helping fish and wildlife conservation, he said.

But the Department of Forestry lacked time, money and approval from the Legislature to submit a bid for the base price of $21 million, he said.

"It was a good chance to test the idea, and there were a lot of people interested and willing to help," he said.

Local leaders said their first choice would be for a private timber company to buy and manage the land. But some said state ownership might be preferable to seeing it turned into a private enclave that no longer supported logging.

Counties want assurances

The state would have to assure counties that they would continue receiving tax money from the land and that the land would be managed for logging, grazing and other uses, said Lake County Commissioner Brad Winters. That way, it might help support local jobs and the tax base, he said.

"I do believe in private property rights, but this also could affect the community over the long term," he said.

The Department of Forestry will continue looking for land it might buy to help maintain working forests, Brown said. Timberland has been changing hands across the state, with Boise Cascade Corp. agreeing in July to sell its forests, including 635,000 acres in Oregon, to a Chicago investment group.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski's staff has suggested the possibility of the state's buying forestland that might otherwise be developed. Under the approach, sustainable logging of the land over coming decades could support rural jobs and help generate money for education.

But aides stress that the strategy must be viewed over the long term and may not produce much initial revenue.

They also said legislation would be needed to create a framework for buying land and dedicating forest revenues to education.

"If the process was in place, this is the kind of thing we would have looked at," said Marian Hammond, a spokeswoman for the governor.

The 90,000 acres the state considered buying is known as the Longbell Tree Farm. Northeast of Klamath Falls, it is being advertised as one of the single largest tracts of timber and recreational land, also with important conservation values, ever offered for public sale.

Ads tout timber, hunting

It's about half the size of Crater Lake National Park and lies next to national forest and a Nature Conservancy preserve. It gives rise to several streams and supports wildlife, including the threatened bull trout.

The land was long owned by Weyerhaeuser and then sold to U.S. Timberlands, now known as Timber Resource Services.

General Manager Martin Lugus said sale of the property reflects a portfolio adjustment by the company, which owns about 600,000 acres in Oregon and Washington.

The company has allowed the public to use of the land for hunting and other recreation and hopes it remains a working forest after it is sold, Lugus said.

Advertisements cite the property's potential for producing timber and as a private hunting or fishing retreat. It could be purchased as a whole or split into four pieces.

Such industrial timberlands on Oregon's drier east side, where trees grow more slowly, have often been overharvested, Brown said. He said it might be a decade or two before the property could support consistent, sustainable logging.

However, it could probably produce enough money in the meantime to pay for its management, he said. The state manages the nearby Sun Pass State Forest.

The Board of Forestry can issue bonds to buy land, but officials would need spending authority from the Legislature, Brown said. The department also would want county support, he said.

Timber companies and private individuals have shown interest in the land, said Debbie Brown, advertising director at Realty Marketing/Northwest of Portland, the company handling its auction.

The state forester said conservation groups expressed interest in helping buy the land to maintain its fish and wildlife values. Stephen Anderson of The Nature Conservancy said the group would be interested in the land if it had a partner to manage the timber.

Michael Milstein: 503-294-7689; michaelmilstein@news.oregonian.com



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