State Land Board to look at turning Elliott into OSU-run research forest
Tuesday, December 18, 2018
Gov. Kate Brown and State Treasurer Tobias Read attended the Tuesday meeting in Salem while Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, who is being treated for brain cancer, attended by phone. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
The State Land Board wants to see more of an Oregon State University plan to develop the Elliott State Forest as a research forest.
Revenue from the Elliott State Forest is dedicated to the Common School Fund, but as logging income has declined in recent years there has been pressure to sell the forest. The State Land Board, which met Tuesday, has been trying to balance the board's legal duty to maximize the forest's education support with calls for conservation and forest protection.
The board is made up of Gov. Kate Brown, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson and State Treasurer Tobias Read.
In 2017, the board halted a plan to sell the forest for $221 million, and instead launched an effort to maintain the forest as public land and protect habitat while decoupling it from the Common School Fund.
The Legislature approved $100 million in bonds that will be issued in early 2019 to partially compensate the fund. The forest was valued at $221 million though, and there remains the question of how to fully compensate the education-dedicated fund for the loss of the forest. Proposals for buying the forest include different measures of revenue-producing logging, recreational uses and conservation.
Brown said her primary goals were to continue public ownership, to keep a habitat conservation plan and to separate the forest from the Common School Fund while making the fund whole.
Read said Tuesday’s meeting was aimed at narrowing down the possibilities for the forest.
“We like this idea of a research forest,” he said.
Under OSU ownership, the 82,000-acre forest could become an unprecedented laboratory for climate change, conservation, ecosystems and science-based forest management programs.
The OSU plan said up front that the university doesn’t have an extra $121 million to purchase the land but it is interested in developing some sort of partnership.
OSU Interim Dean of Forestry Anthony Davis said OSU has not determined how or even if it can come up with $121 million, the difference owed the Common School Fund for the forest. He said OSU did not want debt service to be a driving factor behind logging or other use determinations. Davis said OSU will develop its plan with a focus on the research possibilities of the forest and from that decide what revenue sources might be possible.
“Now that we know there is an interest from the land board, we will go out into the community,” Davis said.
Richardson encouraged some mixture of OSU's plan with county and tribal involvement.
Representatives from Coos and Douglas counties expressed interest in managing the land for logging and recreation in conjunction with some other entity. The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, which was part of the rejected sale offer, reiterated its earlier interest. The Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians also expressed interest in owning land it called part of its ancestral territory.