Environmental groups that have long fought to preserver the coastal old growth of the Elliott State Forest are celebrating today.
The public forest was recently threatened with privatization, but today Gov. Kate Brown released a plan to keep the forest public and in her statement addresses its value as habitat and as a carbon sink.
Cascadia Wildlands, one of the earliest conservation groups to agitate to save the Elliott, released a statement in response, saying the group is:
… encouraged by the governor's leadership toward finding a lasting solution for the Elliott State Forest that maintains the forest in public ownership. There are still a number of details that need to be worked out and elaborated on, and we look forward to continuing to working toward a solution that safeguards all the public values of the forest, including protecting old growth and mature stands, wildlife habitat, clean air and water and recreation.
The Oregon League of Conservation Voters celebrated as well, sending out an email blast that says, "With almost nothing but bad news on the environment coming from Washington D.C., it’s phenomenal to see real leadership here in Oregon."
Brown's statement in full is below.
The Elliott State Forest was created in 1930, through consolidating tracts of Common School Fund forest land scattered across Oregon. Since the mid-1950s the Elliott has produced in excess of $400 million for Oregon schools. About 90 percent (82,500 acres) of the Elliott State Forest is owned by Oregon's Common School Fund – a trust fund for K-12 public education that is overseen by the State Land Board as trustees.
Since 2013, because of harvest limitations prompted by a lawsuit over federally protected species, owning the Elliott has cost the Common School Fund more than $4 million. We must change the way we own and manage the forest, ways that benefit Oregon's schools and children for the long term.
Oregon's public lands — our forests, parks, and beaches — are irreplaceable assets. Even in the face of complicated challenges, we must strive to protect the values Oregonians hold dear.
Today I propose my way forward for the Elliott, a plan I believe is in the best interest of future generations of Oregonians.
• The Elliott is Oregon's first State Forest, and has been a State Forest since 1930. Under my plan, the Elliott State Forest would remain in public ownership, with either the state or tribes owning the land.
• A bond proposal would be developed to include up to $100 million in state bonding capacity to protect high value habitat, including riparian areas, steep slopes, and old growth stands. The investment will go into the Common School Fund and decouple a portion of the forest from the Common School Fund trust lands.
• On the remainder of the forest, we will re-enter into negotiations with the Federal Services for a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) that will allow for sustainable timber harvest while protecting endangered and threatened species. We expect that harvest to average about 20 million board feet per year over the long term – the next 100 years of this state forest's history.
• We hope to work with the tribes to regain ownership of their ancestral lands while protecting the Common School Fund.
When the state adopted the protocol to sell the Elliott, there was no established value for the forest. Because we followed the protocol, we have an appraised value of $221 million.
We know the Elliott is worth far more to Oregon's children than $221 million. By investing in and protecting the highest quality habitat, areas where forest management is the most vulnerable to expensive and lengthy lawsuits, we are protecting marbled murrelets, owls, and coho salmon. At the same time, sustainable forestry management on the remainder of the land can generate continued financial returns for Oregon schools.
We also know Oregon forests are a carbon sink, holding an estimated 3 billion tons of carbon. Growing trees is something the Elliott does well, and in public ownership the forest will help the state meet our climate goals. That, too, benefits Oregon's school children, and all Oregonians for generations to come.