Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 9.2.10

Logging the Elliott
Oregon education system to worsen climate change
By sheena moore

Is K-12 public education in Oregon contributing to climate change? That appears to be the case as the state of Oregon plans to log more than 2,000 acres of older rainforest in the Elliott State Forest, located in the Coast Range between Reedsport and Coos Bay, over the next two years. 

During the past decade, Oregon leaders have recognized that carbon emissions have been a leading cause of climate change, and they are well aware that logging older forests releases tremendous amounts of carbon pollution into the atmosphere. However, the state seems to forget about this when logging becomes a means to generate education dollars. Required to provide the greatest benefit to Oregon schools, the State Land Board, made up of Governor Ted Kulongoski, Secretary of State Kate Brown and Treasurer Ted Wheeler, uses timber sale receipts from logging older forest on the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest as one of many revenue sources for the Common School Fund every year. 

According to the Governor’s Advisory Group on Global Warming, climate change isn’t just another environmental issue, but a crisis. Logging the Elliott will add to this crisis by posing great harm to the environment while its revenue only comprises a small percentage of the overall annual state school budget. With dire implications for life on Earth predicted about climate change, now is a critical time for the State Land Board to explore and implement more sound solutions for raising education revenue on the Elliott. 

Hiking through the Elliott, you’ll find 150-year-old stands of western hemlock and Douglas fir forest with critters sprinting up the length of trees into the canopy and crawling beneath the foliage in the understory. If you’re real patient and an early riser, you may even spot a marbled murrelet, a federally endangered sea bird that nests on branches of older coastal rainforest. A myriad of other older forest dependent species call the Elliott home yet are threatened with extinction due to historical habitat loss and other stressors.

Studies have identified moist, mature and old-growth forests west of the Cascades, such as the Elliott, as one of Earth’s greatest carbon-storing ecosystems. Approximately half of the Elliott remains uncut and acts as a giant sponge, soaking up dangerous levels of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Climate experts have determined that deforestation accounts for 25 percent of carbon emissions globally, second only to burning fossil fuels as the leading contributor to climate change. Preserving older forests has been recognized as a solution to mitigate climate change by the ecosystem’s ability to suck up and store enormous amounts of carbon. The forests proposed to be sold in 2011 on the Elliott have the capability of storing as much carbon as it would take for you to drive 1,000 miles a month for 2,070 years! 

Instead of forging ahead with this “clearcuts for kids” arrangement on the Elliott, Oregon should instead position itself to fund education by leveraging the forests’ carbon storage capacity. Doing so would stabilize the climate, as well as leave the older rainforests intact and protect watersheds that provide a home for the federally endangered northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet and coho salmon and provide a place for future generations to enjoy. In a positive effort, the State Land Board recently began to explore carbon storage as a revenue generator on its sizeable eastern Oregon Gilchrist property. While this is a step in the right direction and should provide incentive for decisive action on the Elliott, the board should immediately halt any further older forest timber sales until it inventories the carbon storage capacity of the forest. As climate change worsens, sequestered carbon will only increase in value, making it an asset to pursue. 

Come this November, a new member will be joining the State Land Board. Voters will have the power to choose between former Oregon Trailblazer and Republican Chris Dudley or former Oregon governor and Democrat John Kitzhaber as our new governor who will inherit responsibility of overseeing the Common School Fund and management of the Elliott State Forest. We hope the new land board recognizes the archaic arrangement on the Elliott, and that a visionary way forward is needed to stabilize the climate and ensure a long-lasting funding mechanism for Oregon school children. 

Sheena Moore is an undergraduate in environmental studies at the UO and a volunteer with Eugene-based Cascadia Wildlands.