Peace at Last

Oregon Legislature inks SB 1546, creates Elliott State Research Forest 

The Oregon State Legislature may have passed a bill with a solution to one of the state’s long-standing timber wars. 

On March 3, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 1546, decoupling the Elliott State Forest from the Common School Fund and creating the Elliott State Research Forest, effectively ending decades-long conflict over management and politics. The bill is a culmination of three years of collaboration between key stakeholders, including environmental groups, the timber industry, the schools, several tribes and the Department of State Lands. 

“I can’t imagine a much better solution that would’ve earned the critical mass of support it needed to get through the Legislature and keep the Elliott in public ownership,” says state Sen. Jeff Golden of Ashland, chair of the Oregon Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery.

Previously, the state helped fund its K-12 schools with timber harvest revenue from the Elliott. SB 1546 severs that tie and provides $121 million — plus $100 million in bonding — to buy out the value of the Elliott for the Common School Fund. 

After a 2012 Endangered Species Act lawsuit halted old-growth logging in the Elliott, and the state was no longer profiting from the forest, the state began to search for other management and ownership options.

The bill creates a new Elliott State Research Forest, run by Oregon State University. According to OSU’s 2021 proposal, which was accepted by the State Land Board, timber harvest will still be allowed in the forest, but only for research purposes. Harvest revenue will then be reinvested as forest management funding. Other revenue from ecosystem services like carbon credits can also be sold and reinvested. 

The bill establishes the Elliott State Research Forest Authority, a new state administrative entity that owns the forest. The authority is also responsible for enforcing management practices in the Elliott. Meanwhile the State Land Board  is tasked with appointing members to the authority’s board. 

A Habitat Conservation Plan was included in the bill, which aims to protect critical habitat for the Elliott’s endangered species: coho salmon, northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet and the coastal marten. About 41,000 acres of old growth forest remains in the Elliott, the majority of which the bill protects under a reserve, according to OSU’s proposal.

“This new approach to the Elliott will spotlight forest management plus research based on biodiversity, fish and wildlife recovery, and resilience due to climate change,” says Brett Brownscombe of the Wild Salmon Center in a press release.

The Legislature passed updates to two other forest bills with bipartisan support in the most recent session: the Private Forest Accord and Oregon Forest Practices Act, which include new stream buffers for logging, forest road improvements and wildlife habitat protections.

This story has been updated.