Oregon’s State Land Board voted unanimously Tuesday to cancel the sale of the Elliott State Forest near the southern coast.
With two new members, the three-member board had voted in February to sell the 82,000-acre forest to a timber company and a tribe to fulfill its obligation to fund public schools.
But Gov. Kate Brown wants to keep the land in public ownership. And a fellow Democrat on the board, Treasurer Tobias Read, recently changed his position to agree with her on that principle.
Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, a Republican, is the board's third member. He said he voted in February to move forward with the sale because he thought it was the honorable thing to do.
“But since that sale is now dead I get to vote my conscience, which is to vote to keep the Elliott in public lands,” he said during Tuesday's meeting, prompting applause from audience members.
All three board members have proposed their own plans for how the state can keep the forest while funding public schools.
The decision came after the state concluded that it could no longer meet its obligation to sell timber to logging operations profitably while also managing the Elliott in ways that met legal environmental and wildlife protection standards.
In December, with conservation groups opposing the sale, Brown called for alternative proposals that would use the state’s bonding authority to keep the forest in public ownership.
Last week she released a more detailed version of her plan, which relies on developing a Habitat Conservation Plan to authorize logging on a portion of the forest. The plan requires federal approval and allows for some impacts to threatened and endangered species while protecting the state from lawsuits.
Read's plan, also issued last week, calls for Oregon State University to split the cost of buying the forest out of the Common School Fund — something OSU expressed an interest in pursuing.
Richardson has proposed that the state swap the Elliott State Forest for land owned by federal government, which owns vast holdings of forests and rangelands in Oregon through the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
After voting to cancel the sale Tuesday, the State Land Board directed staff to come up with a new option for managing the forest based on those plans.