Editorial: Skyline Forest should become a community forest

Skyline Forest - photo by Jay Mather from The Bend Source (http://goo.gl/xQ3qXh)

Skyline Forest – photo by Jay Mather from The Bend Source (http://goo.gl/xQ3qXh)

Published Feb 24, 2015 by The Bend Bulletin (click for full editorial)

The Deschutes Land Trust and its director, Brad Chalfant, have worked for more than a decade to create the Skyline Forest, a community forest west of Bend. The going has been slow, but with the sale of the land to Whitefish Cascade Forest Resources, there’s renewed hope of action in the foreseeable future.

The forest, some 33,000 acres, is the old Bull Springs Tree Farm, originally owned by Brooks-Scanlon Inc. In 1980 the company was absorbed by Diamond International and sold in 1988 to Crown Pacific. Crown filed for bankruptcy in 2003, and its timber holdings were put into a holding company until the land was acquired by Fidelity National Financial in 2006.

The bankruptcy did have a positive side. In 2005 the Legislature approved, and Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed, the Community Forest Authority Bill, which allows a county and local nonprofit to work together to purchase working timberlands with an eye to keeping them in sustainable production.

In 2006 the Deschutes County Commission created the state’s first community forest authority, which allowed the land trust to bid for the forest.

The land trust has worked to make purchase of the land a reality ever since. It has received federal grants to that end at least twice, and it has continued to talk to Fidelity about buying the land, a small fraction of that company’s 197,000 acres of former Crown lands it owned. It has been unable to close the deal.

Now, with new ownership of the land, it may get that chance.

We hope so.

The trust’s vision for the Skyline Forest is of a chunk of timberland managed sustainably that would become a living link to the region’s past. Given the decline of the timber industry in these parts, it’s a link in danger of disappearing forever, living only in the memories of those who have been here long enough to remember the region when two sawmills in Bend as well as others in nearly every community in the area were, collectively, the area’s largest employers and key to its economic health.

It’s a memory of the past well worth fighting for.