BEND, Ore. - (Update: Adding C.O. LandWatch reaction, concerns; Deschutes Land Trust statement)
It's not every day that 33,000 acres of timberland just northwest of Bend -- a parcel larger than the city itself, and one of the largest contiguous properties in the West -- goes up for sale in a public offering. But that just happened with the Bull Springs Skyline Forest, the focus of a public conservation effort in recent years, and the asking price is a hefty $127 million.
"Bull Springs Skyline Forest, located just minutes west of Bend is an active privately held tree farm and recreational wilderness covering 32,995+/- contiguous, deeded acres bordering the Deschutes National Forest," Tuesday's sale announcement stated.
"The property has significant long-term appreciation potential, with opportunity for sustainable timber management, conservation, abundant recreation, in combination with residential and mixed-use development," the news release continued..
"Once you lay eyes on Bull Springs Skyline Forest, you will agree that it is unquestionably one of the most beautiful blocks of contiguous timberland, not only in Oregon, but, in the entire western United States," said Robb Van Pelt, founding partner of Mason & Morse Ranch Company.
The brokers seeking a current sale noted the property has a long history of stewardship dating back to 1916, when Shevlin-Hixon and Brooks-Scanlon opened their logging camps for production. The first Shevlin-Hixon Logging camp was placed at Bull Springs, which was active until 1946. Since that time, they said, the forest has been owned by a variety logging companies and portions exchanged with the U.S. Forest Service.
"In recent years, the property "has become of major interest to the surrounding community of Bend conservation groups, land planners and developers who are interested in working together to balance its valuable attributes that ascend across private ownership, forest management, community recreation, government legislation and the westerly urban expansion of Bend," the release states.
The sale announcement notes the land is currently zoned F1 Forest Use. The Deschutes County F1 Forest Use Zone is intended to conserve forestlands with a minimum 240-acre parcel size.
But the owners state: "Potentially rezoning through Oregon's Destination Resort designation as a cluster development has become a popular balance between sustainable forest management, recreational open space, and urban expansion."
F1 Forest Use Zone-permitted uses include forest operations or forest practices, provisions for wildlife and fishery resources, and other farm uses. Conditional uses permitted include private hunting and fishing, private parks and campgrounds and single-family dwellings.
Bull Springs Skyline Forest combines productive timberlands, conservation and development opportunities together with privacy, the sellers said. The property is one of the largest contiguous parcels in the western United States, with stunning views and abundant wildlife just minutes from Bend, Oregon.
When you combine the resources of timber, wildlife, water, recreation, conservation and redevelopment potential together with its close proximity to Bend, Oregon, you will find it is truly "one of a kind," they said.
"Mason & Morse Ranch Company has been fortunate enough to list and sell some of the finest American farms, ranches and recreational lands across the country," said Bart Miller, managing broker of Mason & Morse Ranch Company. "Bull Springs Skyline Forest is one of America's legacy properties without question. We want to find the right buyer who recognizes the property's attributes and values the history of the property in the community."
The 50-square-mile Bull Springs Tree Farm northwest of Shevlin Park was part of nearly 200,000 acres of Oregon forestland that a Singapore-based investment company, Whitefish Cascade Forest Resources, bought in early 2015. The sellers, Fidelity National Financial, reported receiving $63 million in cash for it.
The Deschutes Land Trust has worked for years to conserve the property for its key wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and to protect the scenic green foothills of the Cascades. If protected, the organization said, it would be the Northwest's largest community forest, balancing sustainable forest products production with wildlife, recreation and scenic views.
A decade ago, the land trust and Central Oregon LandWatch developed and won enactment of state legislation to allow whomever owns the forest build nearly 300 homes on 1,200 acres on the north end of the land, in exchange for selling 30,000 acres of it, along with nearly 35,000 acres of the Gilchrist Tree farm, to the land trust at its "timber," rather than "development" value, also donating am 1,800-acre conservation easement as a buffer to the subdivision.
But the five-year timeline in that legislation lapsed before Fidelity sold the land to Whitefish Cascade, which the land trust has said appeared focused on managing the forest for timber production.
Paul Dewey of Central Oregon LandWatch said he didn't see the sale coming, and the asking price raises serious concerns about the intended use of the vast acreage.
"The current owner’s representative met with me several years ago," he said, "and the story then was that the owner was interested only in socking away money in real estate and not generating income.
"This ask of $127 million shows a substantially different intent, and one that must presume substantial real estate development," Dewey said. "They can’t do a destination resort under current law. The county’s Forest-1 zone does not allow resorts.
"Given what is happening now in California, where fire is sweeping through populated forest areas, the idea of doing that here is ridiculous," Dewey added.
News release from the Deschutes Land Trust:
Skyline Forest for sale
Deschutes Land Trust continues to work with owners to conserve 33,000 acre forest
Bend, OR— With the recent listing of Skyline Forest for sale, the Deschutes Land Trust reaffirmed today its long-term commitment to pursuing conservation options for Skyline Forest. Skyline Forest is a massive 33,000 acre block of land between Bend and Sisters, Oregon.
The Deschutes Land Trust has worked for more than 15 years to conserve Skyline Forest. This 33,000 acre tree farm was historically known as the Bull Springs Tree Farm, and is one of several commercial timberlands in Central Oregon at risk of conversion to residential development. Surrounded by a mix of public and private lands, Skyline Forest contains important wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and protects the scenic green foothills that set off the Central Oregon Cascades.
Central Oregonians—local residents, businesses and elected officials—came out in force in 2005 to support the conservation of Skyline Forest as a working community forest, and that broad community support has continued to grow. Likewise, the Deschutes Land Trust remains committed to its vision of establishing Skyline Forest.
“We remain fully committed to the permanent conservation of Skyline Forest for its wildlife, scenic views, and its recreational and educational potential. We've always expected Skyline to be a marathon, not a sprint and we look forward to working with the current owners to share Central Oregon's interest and commitment to conserving Skyline Forest,” said Brad Chalfant, Deschutes Land Trust executive director.
Community members interested in helping protect this amazing resource can donate to the Deschutes Land Trust at www.deschuteslandtrust.org. Your donation will conserve lands--like Skyline Forest--that Central Oregonians need to thrive now and into the future.
The Deschutes Land Trust is Central Oregon’s locally-based, nationally-accredited land trust. Since 1995, the Deschutes Land Trust has protected more than 9,115 acres for wildlife, scenic views, and local communities. For more information on the Deschutes Land Trust, contact us at (541) 330-0017 or visit www.deschuteslandtrust.org.