Property part of 197,000 acres bought by Singapore company
By Stephen Hamway / The Bend Bulletin — Published Feb 21, 2015
A Singapore-based company purchased nearly 200,000 acres of forest in Central Oregon on Tuesday, including a 33,000-acre parcel west of Bend that the Deschutes Land Trust has been trying to purchase and preserve as Skyline Forest.
“Skyline is the view that most of us in Central Oregon see every day,” said Brad Chalfant, executive director of the Land Trust. “It’s a very important ecosystem, and it’s been heavily used by the public.”
Whitefish Cascade Forest Resources, a limited liability company that lists its primary address in Singapore but which registered as an Oregon company in October, acquired all of the assets of Cascade Timberlands, which was owned by Fidelity National Financial.
These assets included approximately 197,000 acres of land in Deschutes and Klamath counties, which resulted in Fidelity receiving a cash distribution of $63 million, according to a Fidelity news release.
Fidelity would not comment on the sale, and representatives from Whitefish could not be reached for comment.
“We are excited to monetize the value of Cascade for our shareholders,” Fidelity National Financial Chairman William Foley said in the news release. “We have been owners of Cascade for approximately eight years and believe it is in the best interest of our shareholders to monetize the value of this land at this time and seek another use for this cash in the hopes of maximizing the value of our (Fidelity National Financial) assets.”
The area that would become Skyline Forest is a former tree farm that has been facing an uncertain future for some time. Chalfant said that the Deschutes Land Trust has been eyeing the parcel since 2003, when Crown Pacific, which had owned the parcel since the late 1980s, filed for bankruptcy.
After Fidelity took ownership of the forestland, the Oregon House of Representatives passed House Bill 2228, which allowed Fidelity to develop a portion of the parcel while securing most of the 33,000 acres of Skyline Forest for preservation. The parcel has been burned by several forest fires in recent years, including the Rooster Rock Fire in 2010 and the Two Bulls Fire in 2014.
Chalfant said that the Deschutes Land Trust tried multiple times to purchase just the land needed for the formation of the new forest. Fidelity however, was reluctant to part with a portion of the 197,000 acres they owned.
“I think now we know that they were more interested in selling the land wholesale, rather than piecemeal,” Chalfant said.
But for Chalfant and Deschutes Land Trust, the sale represents another chance to pursue the parcel.
“This might look like a setback, but I think it’s the opposite,” Chalfant said. “Fidelity is a large company, and their sale gives us a chance to work with someone else,”
Chalfant said that he hadn’t spoken with anyone from Whitefish and was not sure what they planned to do with the land.
“If they’re interested in holding the property, we’ll work with them and with the community,” Chalfant said.