Skyline Forest talks progressing

Land trust, owner still have time to strike a deal

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin / @DylanJDarling

While the wait to buy the Skyline Forest west of Bend continues for the Deschutes Land Trust, the group’s leader said he isn’t worried that a timber company might swoop in and buy the once-productive property.

“Frankly, there is no timber market for it out there today, and there aren’t other developers looking to buy it at this time,” said Brad Chalfant, executive director of the Bend-based land conservation group.

Fidelity National Timber Resources, a subsidiary of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Fidelity National Financial, owns the 33,000-acre property between Bend and Sisters. The state passed legislation in 2009 that allows the company to sell most of the land while keeping a piece of it for residential development.

“The idea is that the land isn’t getting locked away,” he said.

While trails would cross the forest and some timber would be harvested each year to repay loans, Chalfant said the land trust’s ownership of the forest would protect 30,000 acres from development.

The legislation gave the possible sale of the land a five-year window, which is now about half closed, Chalfant said. A $4 million federal grant for the purchase, channeled to the land trust through the Oregon Department of Forestry, also hinges on Fidelity making a deal to sell the land in the next couple of years.

“We hope to put together a deal soon ...” Chalfant said, “but that’s all according to their timeline.”

The company is in negotiations with the land trust, said Nancy Craven, vice president of Fidelity National Timber Resources.

She said she couldn’t offer a timeline for the deal.

“It all takes time,” she said.

The company owns the land through Cascade Timberlands LLC, which has offices in Bend and Portland.

Craven said conversations between the company and the land trust are going well and appraisers are still evaluating the property.

As part of the Skyline Forest legislation, Fidelity National Timber Resources would keep 3,000 acres in the northwest corner of the forest, Chalfant said. Of that, 1,200 acres would likely be developed into about 280 home sites.

Craven said the residential development – which wouldn’t have a golf course, per the legislation – would have a road connecting to U.S. Highway 20.

While the talks continue, the forest is open to the public, although roads through it are closed from Dec. 1 to March 31 to avoid disturbing wintering deer.

The Bull Springs Creek Trail, a 4-mile loop, is already drawing hikers and the forest has “huge potential” for more trail development, Chalfant said.

While people might not recognize the Skyline Forest by name, he said they likely would by sight.

“It’s the green hills below the high Cascades (above Bend),” he said.