Oregon officials voted to commence planning that would repurpose the Elliott State Forest into a "research forest," managed by Oregon State University (OSU) – providing long-awaited direction to the 80,000-acre forest that was tagged for sale a year ago.
OSU President Ed Ray and Interim Forestry Dean Anthony Davis spoke in front of the State Land Board (SLB) on Tuesday and argued that the scale of the Elliott provides an opportunity for Oregon to become a world-leader in forest research and conservation management.
Oregon State Land Board Meeting - December 18, 2018
"[The] College of Forestry in Oregon State University has been ranked as the number two forestry program in the world," said Ray. "Oregon is uniquely positioned, with access to the Elliott Forest, to provide the world with concrete plans to optimally balance habitat protection, recreational use and timber production."
The proposed Elliott State Research Forest would be one of the largest experimental forests in the nation and would provide a sizable platform for forest ecosystem study, as well as forest economies.
"It could serve as a baseline for seeking a pathway forward," begins Davis. "[W]e have to find balance between threats to our forest health, conservation of our critical ecosystems, conservation of at-risk species and working to restart our lagging rural economies."
The State Land Board also heard proposals from surrounding counties and tribal nations, in which SLB member and Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read saw "significant potential" for partnerships moving forward, as did Secretary Dennis Richardson and Governor Kate Brown.
"I think the counties certainly should be involved and part of the engagement process,” said Brown, also adding that the Coos and Cow Creek tribes, both of which attended and added comment in the meeting, as well as other surrounding sovereign nations, "be part of this conversation moving forward."
"I do think we can move forward on this path and keep the forest for the benefit of Oregon school children," Brown continued. "Probably in a different way — maybe less of a financial resource, and more of an educational resource for the next seven generations.”
Managed in trust for the Common School Fund, the Elliott State Forest was dedicated to provide a sustainable revenue source to Oregon schools. Declining timber revenue and fiduciary responsibilities forced the state to initiate the sale of the forest in 2016. The complete sale of the Elliott was met with massive public resistance, leading the Land Board to seek alternative options that include provisions for public ownership and access, strong conservation features, a full de-coupling from the Common School Fund and a viable plan to compensate $121 million (appraised value of the Elliott) to Oregon schools.
“I know there’s a lot of work still ahead of us when it comes to the Elliott, but I’m really excited about this direction, this momentum," said Read, referring to his earlier statement about perceptions that there is no progress with the Elliott. "I’m hoping that a year from now, we’re going to be sitting here looking at a fully developed plan that will position us, with the Elliott Research Forest, as a national and global leader."
The Oregon chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has been a leading voice in keeping the Elliott State Forest open to the public and will continue to engage in the process to assure our values are heard. If interested in getting more involved with this particular issue, please CONTACT US.