Considering the fate of Skyline Forest, the Oregon House faced a choice between the disastrous - doing nothing and potentially allowing the almost 33,000-acre tract to be clear-cut or chopped up - and the unpalatable - passing a bill that would allow development of part of the forest in exchange for protecting the rest. Wisely, it chose the second option.
For years, the Deschutes Land Trust has been trying to acquire Skyline Forest - less picturesquely known as the Bull Springs Tree Farm - to preserve it for its recreation and scenic values. The land, owned by Fidelity National Timber Resources, is zoned for exclusive forest use, preventing its development. But it could be carved up into small private parcels, restricting public access. Or Fidelity or some future owner could simply bring in the bulldozers and chainsaws.
Fidelity originally offered a deal that would have transferred 28,000 acres to the land trust in return for being allowed by the state to build up to 1,000 homes on another 5,000 acres. We said at the time that the deal was too generous to Fidelity and would have allowed too many houses. Fortunately, it didn't get anywhere.
Under a bill that the Oregon House passed last week, Fidelity would be allowed to build 197 homes on 640 acres of the forest. In return Fidelity would have to sell the rest of the tract, as well as another 14,000 acres it owns in southern Deschutes County, to the land trust.
Fidelity, naturally, would like a bill that would let it do a lot more development. Conservation groups, such as Central Oregon LandWatch, would prefer one that would let it do a lot less.
Saving Skyline Forest is far from a done deal. Fidelity and the conservationists will continue to wrangle over the details as it moves into the Senate. And then Fidelity and the land trust will have to agree on a price and the land trust will have to come up with the money. (Chances of doing that looked better on Tuesday after announcement of a $1.5 million federal grant.)
But at least the House bill has gotten the process of protecting Skyline Forest moving again, and in the right general direction. For that, we confer the GLASS SLIPPER on the 31 representatives who voted for it, including Bend's own Judy Stiegler.
We're conferring a less delicate item of footwear on our area's other representative, Gene Whisnant. Although he says he supports saving Skyline Forest, Whisnant voted against the bill because it also includes provisions that could block the proposed Metolian "eco-resort" in the Metolius Basin.
Our local daily newspaper praised Whisnant's vote as "principled," but from where we stand it appears to have been motivated more by petulance than by principle. So brace yourself, Gene - here comes THE BOOT.