The Elliott State Forest is up for sale. Last Thursday, January 28, the Department of State Lands, acting on behalf of the State Land Board, hosted a mandatory meeting for interested buyers at the USFW department headquarters in Salem to detail the transaction requirements as set forth by the state.
Two of us were present and awkwardly mingled among the 60 or so mostly white, middle-aged men dressed in business casual. The people in that room represented the usual crowd of timber companies and conservationist NGOs, but there were new interests we didn’t recognize, like carbon credit venture capitalists, and green-washed international land management trusts.
After half an hour of small talk over fruit plates and stale coffee, Jim Paul, Assistant Director of the Common School Fund Property Program, called the room to attention and began detailing the preliminary transaction protocol. The price of the Elliott will be set at a “fair market value” that will be announced on July 27, 2016. It will be sold in full and a single entity or individual must take responsibility for the full amount. Interested buyers must submit a proposed acquisition plan that would address four stipulations of the sale and “enforceable mechanisms” (such as a conservation easement) to ensure the purchasing entity will 1) conserve public recreational access on at least 50% of the acreage, 2) ensure at least 40 full time jobs for 10 years, 3) conserve 25% of acres for older forest stands, and 4) conserve riparian buffers of 120 feet on both sides of all streams containing salmon, steelhead or bull trout.
Throughout the meeting, timber interest parties rustled their feathers again and again over these ‘stipulations’ which complicated the purchase process and required significat legal fees.
Jim encouraged attendees to network during the breaks saying they were very open to a proposal that included a coalition of groups representing diverse interests. Theoretically, such a coalition could collaborate on both the upfront financial investment and the ongoing management of different areas in the Elliott. Based on a few conversations I had, the conservationist side would prefer to see a transfer of ownership to federal land but the BLM representative I spoke with did not seem optimistic about the practicality of that option due to the quick turn around time: proposed acquisition plans are due by November 15, 2016.
The next big date is April 5th for a second non-mandatory meeting then in mid-May when they will conduct tours of the Elliott State Forest for interested buyers. In the meantime, if anyone of you is feeling particularly generous today, it will only take somewhere between $235-400 million to buy 93,000 acres of beautiful temperate coastal rain forest. Massive free state project anyone? Now is the time to step forward good friend.