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2024 Oregon Logging Conference Resolution – The Future of the Elliott State Forest

This resolution was presented and approved at the Thursday morning (February 22, 2024) OLC breakfast. Forestry Consultant Paul Beck presented this resolution.

A resolution by the Oregon Logging Conference Regarding the Future of the Elliott State Forest

WHEREAS, prior to 1859, the Elliott was home to the indigenous peoples of what would become Oregon.  These lands were managed for game, habitat, fisheries, medicines, and wood products.  Dendrochronology shows these lands were subject to disturbance (fire) and these fires were both through natural and intentional ignition.  There is no reason to believe this management regime wasn’t carried out for nearly ten thousand years;

WHEREAS, in 1859, The US Congress granted Oregon nearly 3.4 million acres of land upon statehood for the purpose of funding Oregon’s K-12 public schools;

WHEREAS, between 1859 and 1927 the area now known as the Elliott was visited by a series of large stand replacement fires;

WHEREAS, in 1927, President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill authorizing the exchange of Common School Fund lands for a large block of land from the Siuslaw National Forest-what would become the Elliott State Forest;

WHEREAS, in 1930, the Elliott State Forest was established northeast of Coos Bay as Oregon’s first state forest, approximately 91,000 acres;

WHEREAS, in 1955, the state of Oregon began actively managing the Elliott. Timber harvest revenue paid for its sustained management and the significant amount above and beyond management costs went to the Common School Fund.

WHEREAS, in 2012, a lawsuit over endangered species affected harvest levels and significantly reduced revenue. The Elliott began to cost rather than contribute to the Common School Fund.

WHEREAS, in February 2017, the Land Board voted to enter into a process whereby the Elliott would be sold to a private entity.  A very strict set of requirements regarding harvest levels, set asides, continued public access and valuation was put in place for all potential bidders to adhere to.  One bid was received that met all contingencies laid out by the Land Board.  This bid was received from a partnership of a local private timberland company and two tribes that have a historical tie to these lands.

WHEREAS, in May 2017, the State Land Board voted to reverse its decision to sell the Elliott and to keep the Elliott State Forest in public ownership, directing the Department of State Lands to move forward with work to achieve the Board’s vision for the Elliott including keeping the forest publicly owned with public access, decoupling the forest from the Common School Fund, continuing habitat conservation planning to protect species and allow for harvest, providing for multiple forest benefits, including recreation, education and working forest research.

WHEREAS, from January through December of 2019, DSL and OSU launched an exploratory process. DSL convened an Elliott State Research Forest Advisory Committee and OSU established an exploratory committee within its College of Forestry. DSL and OSU engaged the public and various stakeholders in conversation. The research forest concept was incorporated into the in-progress habitat conservation planning process.

WHEREAS, in October/November 2020, approximately 1700 comments were submitted on the draft OSU research forest proposal. Comments assisted DSL and OSU in identifying areas where additional information, discussion or consideration was needed.

WHEREAS, in December 2020, the Elliott State Research Forest Proposal was presented to the State Land Board. The Land Board affirmed that the Elliott State Forest’s future as a research forest and directed continued collaboration and engagement to finalize remaining details.

WHEREAS, in March 2022, Senate Bill 1546 passed in the Oregon legislature and legally established the Elliott State Research Forest and formed an independent public agency to oversee it — The Elliott State Research Forest Authority (ESRFA) — which would contract with OSU or an agreed upon party to manage and conduct research on the forest.

WHEREAS, SB 1546 required a forest management plan to be developed by OSU and approved by the State Land Board before July 1, 2023, as one of the prerequisites to the Authority assuming management responsibility on January 1, 2024;

WHEREAS, SB 1546 gave the Land Board responsibility for appointing the new agency’s board of directors. In 2022, the Land Board appointed nine board members, with appointments effective on Jan. 1, 2024. This Board would serve as formal directors of activity on the Elliott.  Prior to that date, the appointees would serve as advisors to the Land Board and DSL as work continues to map out options and actions for creating a research forest;

WHEREAS, SB 1546 also required that the Elliott State Forest be decoupled from the State School Fund with a vote of the State Land Board. The Elliott is now permanently, legally, and financially decoupled from the common school fund.

WHEREAS, in Spring 2023, the Department of State Lands and state leaders sought a legislative amendment to extend the approved timeline for establishing the research forest and its management by OSU and the College of Forestry. This legislative amendment, Senate Bill 161, was passed in June 2023, and extended the deadline for completion of deliverables to December 31, 2023.

WHEREAS, in November 2023, OSU informed the Land Board and DSL that OSU is no longer in a position to participate in the management of the Elliott State Research Forest, due to the difficulty of resolving the competing interests of state, Tribal, industry, environmentalist and community interests through compromise while still achieving the research potential of the forest in a way that is sustainable and that serves the public good.

WHEREAS, the US Fish and Wildlife Service recently concluded a public comment period on the draft environmental impact statement for the draft Elliott State Research habitat conservation plan (HCP.) The goal of the plan was to balance forest research and management activities with the conservation of rare species and their habitat in the Eliott State Forest.

WHEREAS the DSL is continuing with an independent analysis of financial information submitted by OSU;

WHEREAS per law, the DSL will continue to work collaboratively with the prospective board, Tribes, stakeholders and partners to map out options and actions needed for the research forest to become a reality.

WHEREAS, the Land Board’s vision for the Elliott as described currently on their website is to “contribute to conservation, recreation, education, indigenous culture, local economies and more as a publicly owned research forest.”

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Oregon Conference implores the Oregon State Land Board and the Elliott State Research Forest Authority Prospective Board to include the following guidelines for management of the Elliott State Forest:

  1. Recognize that the Elliott and the riparian and terrestrial habitat it contains is not a result of placing it off limits to humans.  The Elliott is the product of thousands of years of human intervention and management.  The species that have evolved and adapted to this forest did so in response to human activity not because of a lack of or prohibition of management.
  2. Support recent traditional and indigenous use of the Elliott State Forest, including timber production, to truly represent a model research forest for Oregon state forests.
  3. The management of the Elliott State Forest must be self-supporting.
  4. Carbon sequestration on the Elliott can be achieved most effectively by an annual harvest that turns the resource into durable building products which will in turn be turned into houses that will sequester this carbon for generations to come.  Carbon sales provide no real benefit and should not be considered as a means of support for the Elliott State Forest.
  5.  A diverse governing board must include industry, environmental, community and Tribal representation.  This Board must be impowered to manage through its Executive Director the Forest.  
  6. This conference has always and strongly supported science-based policy decisions and has rejected policy based on political expediency.  We support the Elliott Research Forest as a means to achieve real science.