Sen. Ron Wyden is mucking around in our forests again.
I attended a meeting in Wallowa about 10 years ago. There was fewer than 10 people there and Wyden was one of those attending. I’d gone that day to report on federal funding for the Wallowa-Union Railroad Authority.
Minutes into the meeting a local business owner thanked Wyden for securing $12 million for federal purchase of a large piece of agricultural land in the Imnaha River canyon lands. Upon hearing this, my focus changed completely as I recognized the big story being the federal government purchasing thousands of acres of private, agricultural land.
The parcel had been acquired by a private entity during the era of the failed Blue Mountain Land Transfer around 2006. During the same time, the land purchaser had actually been working with Rep. Greg Walden on legislation that would have forced certain private-to-public land transfers. When that conflict of interest became public, Walden backed away from the legislation and BMLT died on the vine. This left the land purchaser in a pickle with thousands of acres of land and a large loan from a local institution.
Next, that piece of Imnaha property becomes the highest priority, top of the list, for federal land acquisition; in steps the Nature Conservancy, United States Forest Service and Wyden.
After about five years, the Nature Conservancy purchased the property from private land purchaser and holds the property while Wyden works to get federal funding, from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, so the Forest Service can purchase the property, circa 2009-12.
When I learned all this, problems began to surface. First, I learned that the private owner, Nature Conservancy, and Forest Service all used the same land appraiser. Next, a well-respected, local ag-land appraiser claimed they’d violated laws, including the “larger parcel rule” after the private purchaser submitted a verbal plan to construct a 11-parcel housing subdivision. I was informed this inflated the land’s value by about 3.5 times.
Now we see Wyden mucking around in our forests again and I wonder to whose benefit.