Environmental groups led by the Oregon League of Conversation Voters and Oregon Wild this week blasted state officials for a vote to sell the 82,500 acre Elliott State Forest north of Coos Bay—and particularly condemned state Treasurer Tobias Read, who cast the deciding vote.
On Twitter, OLCV executive Director Doug Moore called Read's vote "shameful."
But minority groups including APANO, Unite Oregon, Western States Center and the NAACP Oregon say the Elliott decision is more complicated than the choice of whether to sell or not.
In a Feb. 12 letter, those groups noted that along with Lone Rock Timber Management Company, the consortium that bid for the Elliott includes two federally recognized tribes, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe and The Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians.
The environmental community, the minority groups write, “has mobilized opposition to the sale, with little to no engagement with the Tribes who would have, once again, become the stewards of this land.”
“This lack of consideration and engagement exposes a rift between environment and Tribes that simply should not exist in a world where we aspire to greater collaboration.”
The social justice aspect of the sale adds to what has become a tangle of political, economic and environmental considerations.
In December, the then three-members of the Land Board—Gov. Kate Brown, then-Treasurer Ted Wheeler and then-Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins—agreed to sell the forest to the consortium led by Lone Rock, if certain conditions relating to public access could be met before the board's Feb. 12 meeting.
A lot happened in the interim. Former state Rep. Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point) replaced Atkins and Read (formerly a Democratic state representative from Beaverton) succeeded Wheeler as Treasurer.
The conditions relating to public access got resolved, which meant if nothing changed, the sale would likely have been rubber-stamped on Feb. 14.
But on Feb. 10, Brown unveiled a last-minute approach for keeping the forest in public ownership. At a contentious meeting on Tuesday, OPB reported Richardson voted to move forward with the sale as agreed in December, which made Read the swing vote.
In his race for treasurer, Read repeatedly expressed strong opposition to selling state trust lands, such as the Elliott.
He had also introduced legislation to set up a new mechanism to protect such lands—all of which made environmentalists think he would side with Brown and oppose a sale. He did not, voting instead with Richardson to sell. Brown and Sen. President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) managed to keep the issue alive, i.e. stave off a sale at least until the next Land Board meeting April 11.
Read, who is now getting pounded by social media campaigns led by the environmental supporters of keeping the Elliott under state ownership, offered the following explanation for his vote.
"I voted in favor of the plan that the State Land Board agreed to before I became State Treasurer," Read said in a statement. "It will provide more than $220 million of ongoing support for Oregon's schools. I have a duty to balance the public interest and my constitutional obligation to Oregon's school kids."