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What Fate For The Elliott State Forest On City Club Of Eugene

Oregon Department of Forestry

Recorded on: Oct. 30th, 2015

Air Date: Nov. 2nd, 2015

The State of Oregon is on course to sell the Elliott State Forest, a tract of 93,000 acres in Coos and Douglas County. Oregon’s Department of State Lands spent more than a year developing the forest alternatives project. The project gained the unanimous approval of the Oregon State Lands Board: Oregon’s Governor, Treasurer, and Secretary of State.

The impetus for the project was a reduction in timber revenues for the Common School Fund caused by the need to comply with federal regulations regarding protected wildlife species. It will be at least a year before a sale is concluded.

At statehood, Oregon received from the federal government thousands of scattered acres of land on the promise that the State would use those lands for the benefit of the State’s education system.  The Elliott State Forest is derived from the original grant and must be used for the same purpose.  Over the past 50-plus years, logging in the Elliott State Forest generated $284 million for schools. Under the Oregon Constitution, proceeds from the lands originally granted to the State must be deposited in the Common School Fund.  In recent years, however, the net monetary return has been negative.  The Land Board hopes to find a buyer that will bring an infusion of cash to the Common School Fund and relieve the Fund of the liability that the Elliott Forest has become.

The plan adopted in August imposes greater environmental protections on the buyer than the minimum requirements for endangered species protection. Environmental groups are seeking to formulate a proposal where the forest could be sold to a public entity or trust that places a high priority on the environment, such as its value for carbon sequestration. The forest has significant amounts of mature forest not recently clear-cut.  The state has begun an elaborate survey intended to establish a monetary value for the Forest.  In December of this year, parties interested or potentially interested must reveal themselves to the State.  The State’s process won’t yield a final decision until December 2016.

The current plan may or may not yield purchase offers. If the state receives no satisfactory offers with the environmental conditions attached during the next year, the Board’s vote specifies dropping those restrictions and beginning a new sale process.

Pete Shepherd is General Counsel for the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians.  His primary responsibility is to help the Tribal Government navigate the multiple intersections of Tribal Sovereignty and federal, state, and local lawmaking.  Having  served in the Oregon Department of Justice and other state agencies, he currently works out of the Salem offices of Harrang, Long, Gary and Rudnick.

Josh Laughlin is Executive Director of Cascadia Wildlands, a Eugene-based environmental organization engaged in the process around the Elliot State Forest.  He is a graduate of the University of Oregon with a degree in Journalism and Environmental Studies.