By Dylan J. Darling

The Bulletin

To comment

The Oregon Department of Forestry is taking public comment on its plan to buy 29,000 acres of forestland and expand the Gilchrist State Forest from 43,000 acres to 72,000 acres. Comments should be sent by mail to Oregon Department of Forestry, Attn: Patty Cate, 2600 State St., Building D, Salem, OR 97310, or by email to Comments are due by Jan. 3.

A public hearing on the planned purchase is set for 7 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Klamath County Government Center, 305 Main St.,Klamath Falls.

Tony Andersen of the Oregon Department of Forestry proudly calls the Gilchrist State Forest a success story.

“It’s really a unique forest,” said Anderson, a spokesman for the state agency.

And it is one reason the department is looking to expand the forest, which is about 45 miles south of Bend.

The department, which established the forest in 2010, plans to purchase about 29,000 acres of once privately held timberland and add it to the already 43,000-acre forest. The proposal is up for public comment until early next year and will be the subject of a public hearing early next month in Klamath Falls.

Buying the land would cost about $10.2 million, according to the department. Funds would come from about $2 million in Oregon Lottery-backed bonds, $5.2 million in general bonds approved this year by state lawmakers and $3 million from a federal Forest Legacy grant.

The state Board of Forestry will likely vote on the purchase in March, according to the department.

The Gilchrist State Forest shares a name and a history with Gilchrist, the timber town along U.S. Highway 97. The Gilchrist Forest tract and the town were established in 1938 by the Gilchrist family, who also built the town’s mill, according to the department. Trees from the forest and other nearby holdings, fed the mill for decades and supported one of the last company towns in Oregon.

In 1991, timber giant Crown Pacific bought the mill and land from the Gilchrist family. Crown Pacific changed logging practices in the surrounding woods, Andersen said.

While the Gilchrist family practiced sustainable logging, Crown Pacific liquidated much of the timber on the land, said Steve Fitzgerald, a forestry researcher for the Deschutes County-Oregon State University Extension Service. He said he’s enthusiastic about the state’s management of the expanded forest.

“It creates a large enough block of land that you can manage for sustainable timber harvest,” he said.

The department wanted to buy the full 72,000 acres in 2010 but didn’t have enough money to do so, said Evan Smith, vice president of conservation ventures for the Conservation Fund. His nonprofit, which has an office in Portland, stepped in and bought about 26,000 of the 29,000 acres from Cascade Timberlands, a Montana-based timberland holding company, that had purchased the land from Crown Pacific.

The remaining 3,000 acres the department plans to buy is owned by Redmond-based Central Oregon Land Holdings, according to the department.

Smith said the plan was for the Conservation Fund to hold onto the land until the state could buy the rest. The forest is next to the town and Gilchrist High School, Smith said, giving the town environmental, social and economic benefits, while also providing the school a place to study the woods.

“So it is not one of those conservation projects that is hard to get to,” Smith said. “It is literally in the backyard of the residents and the students in Gilchrist.”

—Reporter: 541-617-7812; .