Oregon Public Broadcasting

The marbled murrelet may discourage timber companies from buying chunks of the Elliott State Forest, but that won't necessarily stop the State Land Board from selling the land, a Department of State Lands spokeswoman said today.

The State Land Board may sell 2,714 acres in Douglas and Coos counties to help offset losses to the Common School Fund caused by lawsuits that have blocked logging in the 93,000-acre state forest.

A timber appraiser recently gave the state two estimates for the value of the timber on the three parcels that may be sold.

The higher estimate of $22 million assumed logging would not be hindered by the presence of marbled murrelets, a threatened seabird protected by the Endangered Species Act.

A second estimate of less than $4 million took into account fears that timber companies would be discouraged from bidding on the property because of uncertainty over the marbled murrelet.

State surveyors and conservation group volunteers reported spotting a marbled murrelet in the area last summer. The land includes habitat suitable for marbled murrelets, but it has not been surveyed for the bird.

Department of State Lands spokeswoman Julie Curtis said today she was not surprised by the timber-only appraisal. The state has yet to have an appraisal that looks at other ways a buyer could use the land.

"The appraisals of the value of the land will be more than the timber cruise value," Curtis said.

The conservation director for Cascadia Wildlands, Francis Eatherington, said the uncertainty over timber values shows the state will not make money by selling the parcels.

The land would be more valuable remaining in public hands to provide wildlife habitat and recreation, she said.

"It's right here for us to use along with the marbled murrelet," Eatherington said. "If the state sold it, they would not get nearly the monetary value this forest is worth to the public."

The State Land Board - made up of Gov. John Kitzhaber, Secretary of State Kate Brown and Treasurer Ted Wheeler - approved a plan to increase logging on the Elliott from about 25 million board feet to 40 million board feet a year. A lawsuit filed by conservation groups over protection for the marbled murrelet has blocked the stepped-up timber harvests.

"Now, the Elliott has become an expense for the Common School Fund, and now it's actually draining money from the fund," Curtis said. "The State Land Board has fiduciary responsibility to manage the Common School Fund. They are faced with this situation where we have a land asset that is an expense."

The Land Board could make a decision to sell the land as soon as Dec. 10, Curtis said.

The timber industry has urged the Land Board to manage the land to increase timber harvests, even if that means selling parcels.

"An unproductive trust asset is a drain on the Common School Fund that cannot be accepted" by the state, stated a letter sent to the Land Board and signed by several timber industry groups.

-You can reach reporter Christina George at 541-957-4202 or at cgeorge@nrtoday.com.

This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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