Central Oregon LandWatch has won a legal victory that it says weakens the case for allowing development in part of Skyline Forest in exchange for protecting the rest of it.
The back story: Skyline Forest - also known as the Bull Springs Tree Farm - is a 33,000-acre wooded tract lying northwest of the Bend city limits. Owned by Crown Pacific before that company went bankrupt, it now belongs to Fidelity National Timber Resources, a subsidiary of the Fidelity National insurance company.
All 33,000 acres is zoned for Exclusive Forest Use, which means houses can't be built on it. In the summer of 2007 Fidelity National offered a deal: Allow it to put hundreds of ultra-upscale homes and a golf course on 5,000 acres of Skyline Forest and it would give the other 28,000 to the Deschutes Basin Land Trust for protection.
Critics of the deal, including the Source, said it would set a bad precedent for carving up forest lands piecemeal, and that it probably wasn't necessary because it seemed unlikely Fidelity or anyone else would legally be able to develop Skyline Forest anyway. Now CO LandWatch has won a ruling that seems to bolster that argument.
The gist of the case is that the owner of a piece of former national forest land adjacent to Skyline Forest wanted to designate it as a "lot of record," a first step toward being able to develop it. But a county hearings officer ruled that the landowner couldn't do that without complying with the requirements under the county code.
"This ruling could significantly lessen the potential for development in and around the Skyline Forest by limiting the number of recognizable lots of record on which any development could occur," LandWatch Executive Director Erik Kancler wrote. "At the very least, this is another example of the ways in which current law offers strong protection for the Skyline Forest, and that subdivision and piecemeal development of this forest is exceedingly difficult."
The decision, Kancler continued, "makes it difficult to see why there's any reason to allow up to 1,000 homes (and perhaps a golf course), as Fidelity has proposed, to save the rest of" the forest.