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EO MEDIA GROUP - Environmental groups oppose the sale of the Elliott State Forest organized a protest at Tuesday's State Land Board meeting in Salem.SALEM — Nearly one month before acquisition proposals for a major parcel of the Elliott State Forest are due, more than 30 members of the public gave comments at the State Land Board’s meeting Tuesday.

The sale of approximately 82,500 acres of the Elliott State Forest, which has proven controversial, particularly among environmental groups, wasn’t an item that board members were scheduled make any decisions on.

Nevertheless, an hour-long comment period on the subject was scheduled for the end of Tuesday’s meeting — though protesters had to check their signs at the door under the watchful eyes of state troopers.

Under the state constitution, the State Land Board is required to maximize revenue from the Elliott State Forest and other natural resources the state received from the federal government at statehood. The board is required to put that revenue toward the state’s K-12 public schools.

The Elliott Forest land at issue has, for years, been an asset of the Common School Fund. In recent years it has become a financial liability and the state wants to “decouple” the fund from the forest.

In July, the Department of State Lands estimated that the Common School Fund lost $4 million since 2013 due to new timber harvest limitations on the Elliott State Forest land.

Those limitations were sparked by a lawsuit challenging the state’s logging in areas that are home to the marbled murrelet, which is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The proceeds from the planned sale of the parcel will be invested in the Common School Fund, according to the department.

The buyer must ensure 40 direct and indirect jobs in connection for the forest for 10 years, and in perpetuity do the following: conserve public access on 50 percent of the area’s acreage, protect at least 25 percent of the trees from harvest and maintain riparian areas of 120 feet or more on either side of fish-bearing streams.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, one of three members of the board, said during Tuesday’s meeting that bidders can exceed these requirements. However, prospective buyers cannot offer more than the state’s price of $220.8 million, determined earlier this year to be the forest’s fair market value.

Speakers during the public comment period, of whom there were about 35, spoke in favor of keeping the forest public.

Several commentors, including children, said they lived in the area and that they feared the potential effect of new ownership on the forest’s rivers, trees and fish.

The land board, however, bears ultimate responsibility for the acquisition decision.

Several dozen entities have expressed interest in buying the land, according to the Department of State Lands. These include public agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Oregon Department of Forestry.

According to State Lands Spokeswoman Julie Curtis, public entities who submitted expressions of interest in accordance with the state deadline can partner with private entities to submit acquisition plans, as long as those who formally expressed interest on deadline are the lead entity on any acquisition plan.

Acquisition plans are due Nov. 15, one week after the general election. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is the only board member seeking reelection.

Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins plans to retire when her term concludes at the end of this year, while Treasurer Ted Wheeler has been elected to serve as mayor of Portland starting in January.

At Tuesday’s meeting, DSL Director Jim Paul said the sale was on track to meet the projected timeline for the sale of the Elliott State Forest property.

After the Nov. 15 deadline, it may take the department up to a week to evaluate all of the proposals for how well they meet the criteria, Paul said, and public comment will again be taken at the board’s next meeting Dec. 13.

In other business, on Tuesday the board also received the department’s annual aquatic resource management report and approved the sale of two state-owned trust parcels — one in Marion County and another in Lincoln County.

The Marion County parcel, approximately 0.68 acres, is being sold to the city of Salem, as it is surrounded by city property in Minto Brown Park. The Lincoln County Parcel, approximately 70.6 acres, is being sold to the Wetlands Conservancy, a conservation nonprofit.

The board also approved “clarifying” changes to administrative rules governing state-owned submerged and submersible land.

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