Elliott forest research proposal moves forward without answering education funding question
Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Gov. Kate Brown said she was initially skeptical of Oregon State University’s Elliott State Forest proposal but she liked what she heard at Tuesday’s State Land Board meeting. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
The State Land Board supported on Tuesday continued exploration of an Elliott State Forest research plan, but how to compensate schools remains elusive.
A full public meeting in Salem with passionate testimony demonstrated why the forest’s usage has been tied up for years. An Oregon State University proposal attempts to find a synthesis of competing conservation and timber industry interests and move the forest out of constant court fights.
The Elliott was created in 1930 to provide public education income through the Common School Fund. Timber harvest curbs have nearly eliminated revenue, and the state has been exploring what to do with the Elliott.
The forest was valued at $221 million for a 2017 sale that the land board ultimately scrapped. The Legislature approved $100 million in bonds this year to partially compensate the fund. The land board is still looking for a way to make up the rest. State bonding, carbon credit sales and unforeseen research benefits have been suggested as possible money sources.
In December 2018, the land board directed the Oregon Department of State Lands to work with OSU to explore using the forest for research while it remained publicly owned and accessible. The State Land Board is made up of Gov. Kate Brown, Secretary of State Bev Clarno and State Treasurer Tobias Read.
OSU reported back Tuesday, but details about decoupling the forest from the Common School Fund and creating a governance structure have not been addressed. The department expects a full proposal in fall 2020.
OSU’s plan would set aside nearly half the forest for watershed conservation research and use the rest for watershed management experiments. OSU envisions a unique long-term and vast research environment to study how a forest can be used and managed sustainably.
OSU has made clear that under its plan timber harvests would be dictated by research interests only and the profits would be used to support the forest work.
The plan has broad support, although conservation and timber advocates remain skeptical and tribal groups would like to be more involved.
The Advisory Committee convened by the State Lands Department brought together competing interests to study the plan. The group reached consensus on backing for the plan, although they still want to see more details on issues including the research agenda and how public schools will be compensated. OSBA Deputy Executive Director Mary Paulson and former Reedsport School Board member Jen Clark are among the 16 committee members.
Also on Tuesday, Oregon Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General Matt DeVore told the board that a recent Oregon Supreme Court ruling on an Elliott land sale did not affect the OSU plan. The court blocked a transfer of ownership of public land, but under the OSU plan, the forest would stay under state ownership.