The Oregon State Land Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to move ahead with the transfer of ownership of the Elliott State Forest to Oregon State University while acknowledging that more work is needed before the transfer could be finalized.
The 80,000-acre forest in southwest Oregon is inching closer to becoming what backers say will be a world-renowned research forest, providing opportunities for scientific research to inform future decisions for better forest management. The plan also calls for public access and future timber harvesting. The transfer will also decouple the forest from the Common School Fund, which relies on revenue from the sale of timber on state forests, among other resources, to help pay for public education in Oregon.
The two-year collaborative process between OSU and the Oregon Department of State Lands also included a 17-member Advisory Committee to provide input from various different perspectives and industries.
The State Land Board is composed of Gov. Kate Brown, Secretary of State Bev Clarno and State Treasurer Tobias Read. During Tuesday’s meeting Brown, along with Clarno and Read, praised the work done to draft the proposal and negotiate a way forward, despite competing interests around conservation, logging, research and public access for hunting and other forms of recreation.
“Instead of crisis and chaos, we are moving towards a collective voice of collaboration,” Brown said.
But she said moving this plan along doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. More work needs to be done in the next two years before coming to a final decision, Brown said.
Some of the topics that still need to be resolved include making sure the plan is centered on climate change, establishing a wildlife habitat conservation plan, addressing the projected $121 million loss of revenue to schools that would result from decoupling the Elliott from the Common School Fund and diversifying the range of experts involved.
“I think the work will be much better informed if the entirety of the university is brought into this conversation,” Brown said, in a veiled reference to the abundance of criticism raised around the role of OSU’s forestry college in shaping the proposal and managing the forest moving forward. “It makes for a more comprehensive and collective approach.”
The state received more than 1,700 comments and feedback — including numerous requests to create an independent oversight body selected by the state or other non-OSU entity to ensure public accountability and transparency in management. Comments from the public also suggest increasing the range of experts moving forward.
Related: It’s the public’s turn to weigh in on turning Oregon’s Elliott State Forest into a vast, ‘living laboratory’
OSU College of Forestry Dean Tom DeLuca said efforts are being made to have a broad representation from the university on the Elliott State Research Forest proposal. For example, he said moving forward the proposal would include experts from the College of Agriculture, College of Science and Liberal Arts.
“I think that most do not recognize that the college faculty that created the proposal was a collection of professors from an array of disciplines including soil science, hydrology, ecology, wildlife biology, social science, economics, policy,” He said. “There seems to be a perception that the college is just foresters and forest engineers.”
DeLuca said the College of Forestry will continue to work on the proposal and collaborate with the Department of State Lands, stakeholders and the public to finalize the plan and come up with a forest management plan.