For the timber company and Native American tribe that had bid to buy the a public forest from Oregon, Tuesday was the day they learned their months spent planning, negotiating and waiting were for nothing.
Roseburg’s Lone Rock Timber and Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians were the only parties that stepped forward when the state decided to sell the Elliot State Forest. The state said the offer was good. It met all its criteria for conservation, job creation and public access.
But now that bid is dead. That is the result of the State Land Board's unanimous vote Tuesday to cancel the sale. Instead, the board intends to keep the 82,000-acre forest near Oregon's southern Coast in public ownership.
Conservationists cheered the decision. But Lone Rock and Cow Creek are expressing disappointment and frustration.
“Lots of people have spent lots of their last year and a half working on this, both for us and with our partners,” says Jake Gibbs, Director of External Affairs for Lone Rock Timber.
Gibbs estimates more than a half million dollars has been invested in the project.
“If the state is going to initiate projects and proposals of this scale and magnitude, I guess I question their sincerity in wanting to see this all the way through,” he says. “Maybe we were naïve.”
Oregon State Land Board members – the governor, state treasurer and secretary of state – voted to sell the forest after it stopped making money for the Common School Fund, which provides money for public schools in the state. Concerns and lawsuits around endangered species had slowed timber sales.
Since that time, controversy over the proposed sale has raged, two of the three Land Board members have changed, and efforts to put together a viable alternative to keep the forest in public ownership have come by fits and starts.
As recently as February, the Board voted to move forward with the $220 million sale.
Through it all, the Lone Rock/Cow Creek bid remained on the table – until Tuesday.
Cow Creek CEO Michael Rondeau says they’d been getting used to the idea that the sale wouldn’t go through for several months.
“I understand how processes work, and I understand the politics of it.” he said. “Would I like to have seen a different outcome? Sure. But our tribe has been through a lot of interaction with government agencies, and we’re not strangers to disappointment.”
Now each Land Board member has their own proposal for how to keep the Elliott State Forest in public ownership, while ensuring the Common School Fund is fully compensated.
Rondeau said he was pleased to hear that the public proposals included tribal involvement, but says it’s unclear what that would actually mean.
“There’s not a lot of detail, so I’m not sure what the possibilities are,” he said.
For the time being, the State Land Board has passed the onus back to the Department of State Lands. Staff are being directed to incorporate pieces of the different board member proposals into a new public option for the Elliott State Forest.