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Oregon Lawmakers Want $100M To Protect Part Of Elliott State Forest

Oregon state lawmakers want to use $100 million in state bonds to help keep the Elliott State Forest in public hands.

Oregon legislators released their list Monday of projects to bond in the next two years. Money for the Elliott State Forest is the most controversial item.

The 82,500-acre Southern Oregon forest is supposed to be used to raise money for education, but revenue from timber harvests has dropped in recent years. State leaders had planned to sell the forest to a private timber company and a partnering Native-American tribe. But environmentalists objected.

In May, Gov. Kate Brown, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson and Treasurer Tobias Read voted as the State Land Board to stop the sale and instead pursue other ideas for keeping the forest public.

The $100 million in bonds would let the state follow through on one idea the governor offered: to protect a particularly vulnerable stretch of forest while buying the state more time to figure out what to do with the rest.

The fate of the Elliott also could be decided, in part, by the courts. Both the Oregon School Boards Association and Lone Rock Resources, the timber company that bid on the forest, have warned of lawsuits involving the Elliott.

Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, voted for the bond list in a Monday committee meeting, despite his objections to the Elliott deal.

“There is one thing in this budget that I absolutely did not want and that’s the funding of the Elliott,” he said. “I just felt very passionate about that. Having said that, there’s $940 million worth of reasons to vote for the bill other than the Elliott. But I find it sad that we make it so difficult to harvest timber.”

The bonding list also includes money for Multnomah County’s new courthouse, the University of Oregon’s new science campus and a range of community college improvements. The full Legislature still must approve the list before their July 10 deadline to end this year’s session.

Copyright 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Anna Griffin