A Singapore-based company purchased 197,000 acres of land in Klamath and Deschutes counties this week, including the 90,000-acre Mazama Forest, which was promised to the Klamath Tribes in the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement. The announcement Wednesday spurred a strong response from the Klamath Tribes Thursday.
“It was very surprising,” Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribes said. “This is obviously a disappointment.”
In a released statement, he spoke about how important it is for the Tribes to reacquire land included in the Klamath Reservation boundaries from the Treaty of 1864. The Tribes’ purchase of the Mazama Forest was a key component of that, and for the KBRA.
“Land recovery is an essential bargained-for benefit of the KBRA,” Gentry’s released statement said. “Nothing less than significant land recovery will work for the Klamath Tribes. We are committed to securing land base that will provide balance in the Agreement and economic opportunity for our people. Without land recovery, the Agreement simply will not work for the Klamath Tribes.”
In an interview, Gentry emphasized the importance of land recovery as part of the KBRA.
“It was a bargained-for benefit of the KBRA, so we need to explore other options for land recovery available out there to satisfy the Tribes’ need,” he said. “If we’re unable to purchase the Mazama, we need to look at other options.”
The company buying the land is Whitefish Cascade Forest Resources, according to the Portland Business Journal. The company has a Salem address and is registered as an Oregon company, but has a principal address in Singapore and a mailing address in Seattle.
The company bought the land from Fidelity National Financial Ventures, the Portland Business Journal reported. The original article listed a price for the land, but since redacted it pending verification.
Fidelity National Financial Ventures “said it covered all of the assets of its portfolio company, Cascade Timberlands LLC. FNFW received a cash distribution of approximately $63 million,” the business journal article reads.
“We are excited to monetize the value of Cascade for our shareholders,” Fidelity National Financial Chairman William P. Foley, II, said in the Portland Business Journal article. “We have been owners of Cascade for approximately eight years and believe it is in the best interest of our shareholders to monetize the value of this land at this time and seek another use for this cash in the hopes of maximizing the value of our FNFV assets.”
Cascade Timberlands was listed as one of the top 24 taxpayers in Klamath County, according to the assessors’ office.
Klamath Tribes’ reaction
For more than a decade, the Klamath Tribes have planned on purchasing the Mazama Forest, the Tribes said in the released statement. The Mazama Forest is one of only two privately owned land parcels within the 1.2 million acres of Klamath Reservation from the Treaty of 1864.
“Earlier attempts to reacquire Reservation lands that had been converted to national forest land met with intense opposition,” the release said.
Acquiring the forest was also a “cornerstone element for the Klamath Tribes in the KBRA,” the release said.
The KBRA promised funding to the Klamath Tribes to purchase the land. Gentry said the Tribes previously had a purchase agreement with the former owner, but that agreement has expired. He said the Tribes would explore whether or not the new owners would be willing to sell.
“That would be something we would want to find out,” he said.
If the Mazama Forest is no longer an option, the Tribes will be looking for other options to recover land.
“We still need to achieve that same goal,” he said. “Whether it ends up being the Mazama Forest ultimately, or another property.”
The Tribes last week concluded a series of community meetings in Portland, Eugene, Chiloquin and Klamath Falls to discuss the Klamath Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act (Senate Bill 133) and Klamath Basin adjudication.
The Tribes plans to fully discuss the Mazama Forest purchase and the tribal community meetings during the next General Council meeting Feb. 28.
Basin water accords
The Klamath Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act (Senate Bill 133) provides legislation to authorize and implement the Klamath Basin agreements. The bill includes the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA), the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA), both signed in 2010, and the 2014 Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement.