SALEM — Oregon's Department of State Lands is looking into whether other entities, including counties or private companies, could manage certain state trust forests more cheaply than the state Department of Forestry.
The Department of State Lands relies on the state's forestry department to manage 33,073 acres of land that are required to generate revenue for the Common School Fund, which is essentially an endowment for public education.
The state land board — Gov. Kate Brown, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson and Treasurer Tobias Read — last week approved the department's request to look into alternative management schemes for those forests.
DSL Interim Director Vicki Walker, who has been at the helm of the agency since March 1, had suggested exploring other options for forest management.
The idea is for the department to figure out whether it might be more economical to have independent logging companies or counties manage Common School Fund forest lands, which are located in 18 counties.
"I'm trying to find the best way to run the program at low cost, keeping in mind our fiduciary responsibility," Walker told the board last week.
That request was prompted by the $4.82 million the forestry department has asked for in the next budget to manage those lands. That would be a $1.55 million increase from the current budget.
That includes the projected cost of fire protection.
The land board approved that request to keep the lengthy budget process going, but the department will also look into alternatives over the summer, an effort that Brown and Read appeared to support.
"I would not presume to know what the results of that inquiry will reveal," Read said. "I think it will be important for this board to be able to consider that, but it seems to me we'd be in a stronger position with more information."
Brown, noting that previous state lands directors have likely considered other management options, said the idea was "worth revisiting," but expressed concern about funding for fire protection.
"I want to make sure we are not being pennywise and pound foolish," Brown said, "And that we are guaranteeing adequate protection to the extent that we can, given changing weather conditions and what we anticipate is going to be a very challenging fire season."
The process will likely get underway late this month or early next month. The department is expected to present its findings at a state land board meeting later this year.
The state lands department can terminate its contract with the state forestry department for Common School Fund land management with 90 days' notice.
The forestry department says that some of that increase would fund personnel to manage the Common School Fund forest lands currently in its care.
When it comes to managing those forests, ODF plans and administers timber sales, conducts surveys for threatened and endangered species, conducts forest inventory and manages reforestation and young forest stands.
Forestry officials also expect the Common School Fund land under their management to generate $6.76 million in timber sales revenue in the 2019-2021 biennium, resulting in about $1.9 million in net revenues to the Common School Fund.