A plan to transfer the Elliott State Forest to Oregon State University is slowly moving forward.  The university is developing a report outlining how it could take ownership of the timberland near Coos Bay and turn it into a research forest.

Until a few years ago, the Elliott was logged to produce money for Oregon schools though the Common School Fund. That ended when courts shut down timber harvest because of endangered species concerns.  Ever since the state has been looking to offload the 91,000 acre forest.

Elliott State Forest near Coos Bay, Oregon

Elliott State Forest near Coos Bay, Oregon

Oregon Department of State Lands

Oregon State University is the most recent suitor and its initial proposal to take ownership was lauded by the State Land Board, which wanted to see the forest remain in public ownership.

The university is now in a year-long process to flesh out their proposal.

“We’re very early in the process, and what we’re doing is studying the idea of OSU taking over the Elliott and managing it as one of our research forests,” said Jim Johnson, an associate dean with the OSU College of Forestry.

Part of that is studying whether their plans are financially feasible.

“We have a team of faculty here on campus that’s looking at all aspects of the Elliott in terms of what potential research might be done there. Would there be enough opportunity to harvest timber to generate enough revenue to pay for the management of the forest as well as pay for the research?” he said.

The university is holding a series of public meetings — June 4 in North Bend, June 5 in Reedsport and June 6 in Roseburg — to get input on how its idea to create a research forest meshes with how local communities want to use the land.

OSU is expected to present the results of this work to the state at the end of the year.

One of the potential stumbling blocks moving forward is the purchase price of the Elliott State Forest.  The state has approved $100 million to help reimburse the Common School Fund for the loss of timber harvest base, but another $120 million will need to come from somewhere to cover the rest of the appraised value of the land.  Oregon State University said early on it is not in a position to pay that kind of money for the forest.

As the university hones its proposal, the Oregon Department of State Lands is working on a habitat conservation plan for the Elliott.  The aim is to provide a forest management framework that satisfies federal environmental laws and allows logging to recommence.

“It’s very much intended to reflect those values of recreation, harvest and of course the conservation aspect of it,” said DSL spokesperson Ken Armstrong.

He says getting a new habitat conservation plan in place is critical to any future plans for the forest.

DSL says no logging is currently happening on the Elliott State Forest. Consequently, every year it remains in state hands, the Common School Fund is losing $2.5 million in forest management costs.