Oregon to Sell 92k Acres of Coastal Woodlands to Fund Education

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Oregon is planning to sell 92,000 acres of coastal woodlands in an effort to step away from the timber sales that are questionable for the environment.  The sales have historically provided funding for public schools in the state.

Officials are expecting to receive market value, or between $300 and $700 million, for the land.  The large price range is due to uncertainty of logging restrictions in the Elliott State Forest.

The money will be put into the public school trust.  The land, which had become a state forest in 1930, was placed in a public trust that would fund education for the state through timber sales.

Recently the state decided to end logging in the coastal forest under mounting pressure from environmentalist groups.  The sale of the land would create a renewed revenue for public schools.

“The Elliot State Forest is tied to the common school fund and must provide revenue for that fund,” said State Lands spokeswoman Julie Curtis. “If it is not going to provide revenue – and recently it has not been – then some other solution must be found.”

The Common School Fund totals 1% of the state’s annual investment in public schools, reports Kelly House for The Oregonian.

Future buyers will be asked to leave a portion of the forest open for the public in addition to protecting the old-growth timber that can be found on about half of the land.

A decision earlier this week by Oregon’s State Land Board will allow private investors to purchase the land if a government or conservation group does not show interest.  Despite this, environmentalist groups continue to show their support for the move.

“For years, Oregon has clear-cut old-growth forest to fund school kids,” Josh Laughlin, campaign director at Cascade Wild. “That’s not working anymore.”

According to state figures, over $100 million was raised through timber sales between 1997 and 2012.  However, the logging endangers the habitat of the marbled murrelet, a seabird on the endangered species list that uses old growth woods to build their nests.

In 2013, the state scaled back logging efforts after environmentalists increased the pressure to do so.  The result of this move was a cut in education funding totaling $3 million.

State officials said they are still in the planning stages for the sale, and are not expecting to begin accepting bids until 2016.

Govenor John Kitzhaber said that “more due diligence” was needed in order to ensure that move truly made sense.  State lands director Mary Abrams and her staff have been asked to research all of the state’s options for selling land under this sort of arrangement.  The report is expected to reach the land board by the spring for a final decision.