Editorial: Gilchrist forest purchase a win for Oregon

Published Mar 9, 2014 at 12:01AM

From 1938 to late 1991, what’s now known as the Gilchrist State Forest was among the best-managed pieces of timberland in the Northwest. Now it has a chance of regaining some of its former glory.

The Gilchrist family purchased the land, more than 60,000 acres, in 1938. Frank W. Gilchrist and his son, Frank R., managed the land for the long haul, assuring they’d have timber well into the future. The family sold the land and mill for a whopping $136 million in 1991 to Crown Pacific of Portland.

Having paid so much for it, Crown logged the property aggressively. As a result, according to a 1994 Oregon Supreme Court ruling on a related tax matter, the state Department of Revenue expected the timber to be depleted as early as 1996 or 1997.

Since then, Crown has gone bankrupt and Interfor Pacific purchased the mill, but not the timberland. In that deal, Interfor got three mills, including the one at Gilchrist, for $74 million.

The state, meanwhile, bought its first chunk of Gilchrist timberland, some 43,000 acres, for $15 million in 2010. Last week, the Oregon Board of Forestry approved the state’s purchase, in pieces, of the remaining 28,800 acres over the next two years for $10.2 million, from the private Conservation Fund, which has been holding it for that purpose.

That’s good news for those who still believe forestry has a role to play in Oregon. The state’s forestry department will, as it has with its nearby Sun Pass State Forest, manage the land for the long haul. In fact, officials have said, it’s likely to be decades before logging in the area resumes, so badly was it overcut in the 1990s.

The wait means Klamath County and the Klamath County School District will have to wait awhile before they begin collecting money from the forest. At the same time, however, it means the land itself will improve — Oregon forest lands are managed not just for economic but for environment and social benefits, as well.

Putting the land in state hands is a win for all. Because the state need not pay bankers or investors, it can take the time necessary to restore the Gilchrist land to its former health. That’s good for all of Oregon, not just the residents of Gilchrist.