Oregon creating first new state forest since 1948

GRANTS PASS — Oregon has a new state forest — 43,000 acres of young pine trees in central Oregon.

The state purchased the land from Fidelity National Timber Resources Inc., of Whitefish, Mont., with $15 million in lottery-backed bonds.

Gilchrist State Forest is Oregon's first new state forest since the creation of Sun Pass State Forest in Klamath County, which was purchased between 1943 and 1948, the Oregon Department of Forestry said. Dedication ceremonies are set for June 11 outside Gilchrist, a company-owned timber town.

Located east of U.S. Highway 97 about 45 miles south of Bend, the forest is covered with young ponderosa and lodgepole pine planted after heavy logging in the 1990s. It will not be mature enough to harvest for decades, said department spokesman Dan Postrel.

The state wants to keep the land in timber production, rather than see it broken up and developed as a resort or private homes, he said.

"The forest there needs to grow for awhile," Postrel said. "Eventually, as the forest develops, it will be a forest that can do a lot of different things, including the recreation and environmental values we have come to expect."

When production begins, two-thirds of revenues will go to Klamath County, and the rest retained by the department to cover management costs.

The Conservation Fund is buying 25,000 acres next to the Gilchrist that the state hopes to buy eventually, Postrel said.

The land was owned for much of the 20th century by the founders of the town of Gilchrist. The department said Gilchrist Timber Co. sold it to Crown Pacific Partners, which logged the timber in the 1990s and replanted before going broke.

Fidelity National Timber Resources bought 293,000 acres from Crown Pacific in 2006. It is the real estate subsidiary of Fidelity National Financial Inc., a publicly traded title insurance company based in Jacksonville, Fla.

The sale was part of a stretegy of finding buyers who would maintain conservation benefits of the land, said Greg Lane, executive vice president of Fidelity National Timber Resources.

The company still has long-range plans to develop resorts on land it retains near Gilchrist and a site between Bend and Sisters, but those plans have been slowed by the downturn in the real estate market. The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, Wash., reported last week that the company bought the promissory note on the Black Rock North private golf club overlooking Lake Coeur d'Alene in Idaho, indicating the company believes that better days are ahead for luxury real estate in the area.

The company also has an agreement to sell 90,000 acres in Klamath County to the Klamath Tribes, contingent on approval by Congress of an agreement tied to the removal of dams on the Klamath River.

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