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Butte Falls schools get hatchery land deed

By early next year, the Butte Falls School District could take possession of most of the shuttered Butte Falls Hatchery, which the district envisions as an outdoors-school campus that could help redefine the city's image as a hub of environmental education.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted Friday in Portland to deed its 10 acres of the 13-acre site just outside of Butte Falls city limits to the district as-is, for free and without any conditions.

The next step is for the agency to seek an exemption from a state rule requiring an appraisal be done before disposing of state lands at less than fair market value. If the waiver is not granted by the state Department of Administrative Services, the district would have to cover the appraisal cost.

If all goes smoothly, the district would assume ownership early next year, according to agency representatives. That would meet a goal ODFW set more than a year ago when budget cuts, fish disease and a backlog of maintenance work prompted agency leaders to close the 96-year-old hatchery and turn over the land to some public entity for public use.

But the district still needs to gain possession of three acres at the site, owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which includes three residences. The land was donated in 1941 to ODFW by the federal government explicitly for use as a fish hatchery. Because the hatchery has been scrapped, the agreement requires that the land revert back to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

FWS is also in the process of working to divest itself of the property.

School district officials see the former hatchery as a potential center for integrated, project-based curricula for its 140 students, as well as others. They hope to turn the residences there into dormitories that could lure people ranging from post-graduate researchers to summer elder-hostel visitors.

The district has no money in its budget to move forward, but members are seeking grants to cover operating costs.

In other action Friday, the commission denied a request by a Rainier timberland owner to amend the state administrative rules to create more flexibility in the state's Landowner Preference Program. The program, also known as LOP, allocates deer and elk tags to landowners with tracts that comprise at least 40 contiguous acres. Almost 7,000 landowners statewide take advantage of the program.

Landowner Jeff Mullins had asked the commission to change the rules so landowners such as himself — he owns 56 acres of timberland, but no tract is larger than 22 acres — could petition to get tags on a case-by-case basis, provided they otherwise meet the program's criteria and intent.

The LOP program will come under regular commission review in 2014.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.