SALEM — A corporate landowner could build 137 dwellings in a portion of Skyline Forest near Bend if it agrees to sell most of the remainder — about 32,000 acres — to a land trust, under legislation expected to receive a hearing next week.
The provision, if it becomes law, has the potential to kick-start negotiations intended to preserve Skyline Forest as a community-owned forest on Bend’s western edge.
For years, the Deschutes Basin Land Trust has worked to create such a forest, which would allow for recreation and conservation as well as logging. The Skyline land, also known as the Bull Springs Tree Farm, stretches from a few miles west of Bend northwest to a few miles south of Sisters. Visible from Bend, the forest is the expanse of greenery beneath the Three Sisters range.
The forest had been owned by forest products giant Crown Pacific, then by a holding company set up by the company’s creditors after it declared bankruptcy.
In 2007, the current landowner, Fidelity National Timber Resources Inc., proposed trading 28,000 acres for the state’s permission to build 1,000 homes on 5,000 acres. But the deal fell through late last year due to financial uncertainties.
Whether Fidelity would be interested in the new proposal is unknown.
The company did not respond to a request for comment, and the lawmaker pushing the idea, Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, said he has not spoken with the company for two weeks.
The land trust’s executive director, Brad Chalfant, said he spoke briefly with a Fidelity lawyer and his impression is the company hasn’t decided yet if such a deal would be profitable.
“There’s so many uncertainties with the market that they’re trying to figure that out,” he said, adding that the company’s lawyer “didn’t have a reaction to me one way or the other.”
Erik Kancler of Central Oregon LandWatch, which had opposed the earlier, larger development proposal, brought the idea to Clem recently.
“We’re putting a lot on the table here. I see it as a really generous offer,” Kancler said. He stressed that the development would be “clustered” on a few hundred acres, to be surrounded by more than 2,000 acres under a conservation easement to serve as a wildlife buffer zone.
While some people will think the offer is too generous, Kancler said he sees it as a “win-win-win: a win for conservation, a win for Fidelity and a win for jobs.”
Rep. Judy Stiegler, D-Bend, has encouraged Clem to move forward with the bill. She said she thinks the bill will receive support in the House. “I would see this as a win from (Fidelity’s) standpoint,” she said.
Making things complicated, the Skyline proposal will not be considered on its own merits. Rather, its fate could become entangled in the high-intensity politicking going on in the Capitol over a proposed resort ban for the Metolius River Basin.
Clem is sponsoring a bill that would ban destination resorts from the basin, called House Bill 3100. But it has run into stiff opposition from the would-be developers of the Metolian project, which would be blocked by the bill.
As sort of a consolation prize for the Metolian group, called Dutch Pacific Resources LLC, Clem intends to float legislation easing the way for the Metolian developers to build an eco-resort elsewhere in the state, perhaps near Bandon Dunes.
The Skyline proposal would be included in that bill, House Bill 2228, once Clem has finalized the language to be added to it.
Clem, who is chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, said he intends to hold a hearing on the legislation next week.
Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, has been tracking the Skyline situation closely, and had planned to introduce his own bill if Fidelity and the land trust resumed talks. Whisnant said he is not sure that putting the Skyline proposal in the Metolius plan’s companion bill is politically a good idea.
“I really don’t like it being mixed, but I’m not driving the train,” he said.