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Elliott State Forest's Future to be Discussed

Local Enviro groups want to protect what’s left of The Elliott State Forest. Photo: Oregon Department of Forestry
Local Enviro groups want to protect what’s left of The Elliott State Forest. Photo: Oregon Department of Forestry

The future of the Elliott State Forest still hangs in the balance and local environmental groups are dubious about a proposal to be discussed at an upcoming meeting of Oregon’s State Land Board.

After years of fighting over the future of the forest, which includes coastal old growth trees and designated critical species habitat, the SLB, which is currently made up of Gov. Kate Brown, Treasurer Ted Wheeler and Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins, and the Department of State Lands (DSL), put forward the Elliott State Forest Ownership Transfer Opportunity Protocol, which called for selling ​82,500 acres of the forest for exactly $220.8 million. The plan would put public forestlands into private hands, but seeks to maintain public benefits.

The Elliott is largely comprised of Common School Fund lands that are supposed to generate money for the schoolchildren of Oregon.

Only one plan was submitted by the Nov. 15 deadline. The Lone Rock Timber Management Company, in cooperation with two federally recognized Indian tribes: The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians and The Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, with support and advice from additional organizations and tribes. 

Lone Rock Resources says on its webpage about the Elliott that “Lone Rock has worked in and around the Elliott State forest for a half-century. Together with our tribal partners and conservationists, we are committed to sustainability and managing the forest for its environmental, recreational and economic benefits.”

Robin Meacher of Cascadia Wildlands says, “We went though the proposal to see what it has to offer. It definitely fell short in our eyes.” 

She says the plan is “not clear in a lot of areas,” and Meacher is concerned about a ramping up in the amount of trees that would be cut and a lack of clarity in the requirement to keep 50 percent of the forest open to public access.

Cascadia Wildlands doesn’t see the Lone Rock proposal as “responsive” to the state criteria, Meacher says, and it is “definitely not in the direction the state should be going with this process.”

In a Dec. 6 press release, while saying the Lone Rock proposal was responsive, the DSL and Oregon Department of Justice also noted areas that needed more clarity, including: public access rights, expectations regarding “harvest protection areas” where older forest stands are to be protected, allowable activities in streamside areas and finally enforcement mechanisms, including a conservation easement. 

Jason Gonzales of Oregon Wild says: “After many years of grassroots organizing, Land Board hearings where hundreds of Oregonians have rallied and testified and the major public outcry of everyone from local hunters to national environmental NGOs, we are cautiously optimistic that the State Land Board will make the right decision and vote against the proposal to privatize the Elliott State Forest.”

Gonzales says that a recent comment by Brown indicates she is investigating potential state bonding routes that could be used to save the Elliott, something he calls “certainly a welcome step in the right direction.” 

Gonzales says there is also still opportunity to further discuss the idea of trust transfer routes, which were previously proposed by incoming State Land Board member Tobias Read.

Read, who as the new treasurer will soon take a seat on the board, had introduced a bill in the 2015 Legislature to allow the State Land Board and a Trust Lands Transfer Commission to move any trust land such as the Elliott State Forest into different public ownership, such as the state’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Gonzales says he hopes Read will use his new position on the board “to further advocate for creative solutions that allow Oregonians to retain ownership of and access too the Elliott State Forest, while protecting public access, native forests, pristine streams and coho salmon for generations to come.”

The DSL will provide information about the Lone Rock plan and take public comment at the State Land Board’s Dec. 13 public meeting. The meeting is 10 am to 1 pm at the Keizer Community Center, 930 Chemawa Road NE in Keizer.