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Commissioners Delay Pipe Fork – Again

Josephine County’s budget could surely use the $2,320,000 being offered for the Pipe Fork Wilderness Area! So why are the Commissioners continuing to use stall tactics to interfere lucrative sale of the county tract of forest land?  Instead, the commissioners are advocating defunding Josephine Public Health. Unnecessary! Why not save the environment and use the money for public health – and public safety?

The Pipe Fork negotiations with 2 conservation groups – the Williams Community Forest Project and the Conservation Fund – have been ongoing since 2020, and finally reached an agreement for the purchase price. The groups have survived the bar being raised countless times, always accomplishing the stipulations the BCC has thrown in front of the sale.

Pipe Forks’ creek provides drinking water, the land is a popular outdoor recreation site and a stand of endangered Port Orford cedar grows there. The property is adjacent to to an existing BLM research natural area, preserved because it is an excellent example of a specific environment. According to the Conservation Fund, the BLM has assured the organization that the property will be added to the research natural area, and the funds that the BLM will use to purchase the property from the Conservation Fund has conservation-related strings attached, including public access as a criterion.

The money was raised and an agreement with the donor, the Conservation Fund was  ready to sign when suddenly the newly elected commissioner, John West (who, incidentally, owns or owned property adjacent to the Pipe Fork property) convinced the board that the sale price was too low. After an “appraisal” which was never made public, the Williams group was expected to pay an increase of $750,000. After further wrangling the purchasers were told to put some “skin in the game’ and come up with at least part of the money. They did so by raising $300,000 more.

Last week Commissioners West and Baertschiger suddenly demanded proof of funding and guarantees that the property would forever be available to the public and never logged. In spite of assurances from the BLM and the Conservation Fund that Pipe Fork will become a BLM research area, Commissioners West and Baertschiger are insisting on more, either in writing or spoken by a representative of the BLM that the 320 acres will not be logged nor public access blocked permanently. Without it, they won’t agree to the sale of the land.

The discrepancies and contradictions are overwhelming. The commissioners talk about taking the land out of public hands – despite the fact that BLM land is public land. They talk about keeping public access, but they originally planned to log it – destroying the environment and public use for watershed and recreation.

Since this effort by the Williams Community Forest Project began in 2020, there has been no intent by the hopeful purchasers other than conservation. Commissioner de Young, who has been on the board through all the negotiations, including the dubious justification for the raising of the price, now fully supports the sale..

It’s discouraging to those who have worked so hard for numerous years to save this forest land.  They have graciously acquiesced to every new demand only to face animosity from the two obstructionist commissioners.

And a very interesting issue remains:  The commissioners are ignoring more than two million dollars available to our county at a time of extreme budget shortfalls for Josephine county.

Contact the Commissioners to voice your concern! (541) 474-5221