Timber is not the only asset in Oregon forestland sale

PRINEVILLE — Portland real estate agent John Rosenthal leans against the wooden railing of a fire lookout, gazing east toward the lonesome Mill Creek and Bridge Creek wilderness areas. Below the 80-foot structure spreads a rugged, 32,475-acre tapestry of a pine-fir-larch forest that Rosenthal plans to auction today in an unusual timberland sale.

Rosenthal believes buyers will be as interested in carbon sequestration and recreational uses as they are in the timber volume of the huge stand belonging to Ochoco Lumber Co.

Paul Mason, spokesman for Pacific Forest Trust in San Francisco, which helped pioneer the carbon offset movement, said Rosenthal's instincts are probably right.

"I know investors here who are buying multithousand-acre blocks of timberland," said Mason, both for the value of the carbon and the value of the timber. "It is very much real."

Ochoco Lumber Co.'s motivation for selling the land following 22 years of ownership is straightforward. The company deemed the timberlands, known as the Foley Butte Block, "no longer strategic" to its needs after closing Ochoco's Prineville sawmill, according to a news release.

Enter Rosenthal, who has made a career of auctioning some of the Northwest's and California's most interesting properties. They include the rustic Minam Lodge guest ranch, eight miles from the closest road in Oregon's Eagle Cap Wilderness, the 1,700-acre, $30 million Ranch at the Canyons gated community near Smith Rock State Park, and a California company town called Samoa, which included 100 homes, a sawmill-style cookhouse and inn. "Not many people in their career get to sell a complete town," said Rosenthal, owner of Realty Marketing/Northwest.

He publishes catalogues with aerial photographs, charts and maps of the properties he's selling, and he maintains a database of 90,000 buyers. Land Report Magazine in 2011 ranked his company No. 7 in the nation for selling land at auction.

The Foley Butte Block is huge even by Rosenthal's standards.

It encompasses 80 million board feet of Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and larch, said Rosenthal. The kicker: The timber volume is projected to balloon to 261 million board feet in 25 years — more than a 300 percent increase. Not long ago, such numbers would have exuded a single overpowering aroma for Northwest loggers and timber companies: Money. "Trees are great tenants," quips Rosenthal. "They never leave, and they keep paying."

By "paying," he means trees continue growing and adding wood fiber value to the original investment.

On the downside, the Foley Butte Block is dominated by trees of 12 to 14 inches in diameter, not gigantic ancient pines and firs that inspire poetry. The smaller size reflects a century of logging, replanting and intensive management.

Today, conservation may be a bigger part of the land's appeal than the trees.

California companies are permitted to buy carbon offsets in other states to comply with California's cap-and-trade program.

Timber values, as a consequence, no longer underpin forest economics as they once did, according to Mason, of Pacific Forest Trust. Management plans for tracts such as the Foley Butte Block are likely to incorporate resort development and conservation easements alongside their timber harvest schedules. And that's all to the good, says Mason said.

"It really allows you to practice more nuanced and complex forestry," he said.

Rosenthal lays out many reasons well-heeled buyers would be interested in the property.

For starters, it may be the only large commercial tree farm in North America within 12 miles of data centers owned by Facebook and Apple.

Meanwhile, it's an easy drive to the Meadow Lakes Golf Course, Sunriver, and Eagle Crest, Crooked River, Black Butte, Pronghorn, and Brasada resorts, and the Mt. Bachelor and Hoodoo ski areas, he said. Ochoco and Prineville reservoirs and the Deschutes and Metolius rivers are nearby, and it's a mere 45 minutes to downtown Bend and 20 minutes to Prineville Airport.

And then there's history.

Loggers for the Alexander-Yawkey Timber Co., first entered the Foley Butte Block in about 1900 with crosscut saws and teams of horses. A rustic sawmill was built along Willow Creek in the 1930s when this was the "Ponderosa pine capital of the world."

Nearby was a frontier stagecoach station and town known as Grizzly, named for a prominent butte four miles to the southeast called Grizzly Mountain.

Ochoco Lumber also will accept bids for a rustic, two-bedroom cabin on 437 acres overlooking Willow Creek on Foley Butte's west side, and 1,714 acres on Lofton Creek on the south end. Asking prices for those properties are $485,000 and $995,000, respectively.

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