CORVALLIS, Ore. — Oregon State University’s bid to manage the Elliott State Forest took a huge step forward Tuesday.
The State Land Board, meeting remotely, approved the transfer of the massive forest property in southwest Oregon to OSU to manage as a research forest.
The decision came at the end of a three-hour meeting that included a presentation from OSU College of Forestry Dean Tom DeLuca, comments from the project’s technical advisory committee and 47 minutes of public testimony.
State Treasurer Tobias Read made the motion to approve OSU’s plan for the forest. Read’s motion called for the decoupling of the Elliott tract from the state’s Common School Fund, requiring the university to continue to collaborate with the advisory committee and mandating that additional public input and a progress report be prepared before the final authorization that would complete the transfer.
“I see a real glimmer of hope here,” Read said in introducing his motion. “I find the proposal and the work that it represents to be inspiring. This is a big deal, and I’m proud to be a part of this board.”
The board consists of Read, Gov. Kate Brown and Secretary of State Bev Clarno.
“I hear Oregon State has the second-best college of forestry in the world,” Brown said. “I’m hoping that with the Elliott OSU can become No. 1. I’m incredibly pleased and honored that we are in this position today. This is really good news in a very challenging year.”
OSU officials agreed.
“We are pleased that the process to consider establishing an Elliott State Research Forest is continuing,” said Steve Clark, OSU’s vice president for university relations and marketing. “We were very impressed by today’s extensive discussion with the State Land Board and the input received from so many stakeholders. OSU is committed to continue to work with the Department of State Lands, Oregonians and stakeholder organizations to refine the proposal for a state research forest and help define next steps.”
Read and Brown also emphasized that much work still needs to be done. Read, advisory committee members and those testifying during the comment period urged OSU to broaden the scope of its research plans for the forest beyond the College of Forestry to include other disciplines such as fish and wildlife and climate change.
Brown called for OSU to refine its proposal to include more work on riparian areas and to address fire and drought issues.
Brown also praised the work of the 12-person technical advisory committee, eight of whom spoke either during the committee presentation or during public comment. Brown noted that the group, which included educational, environmental, political and timber interests, had trouble reaching consensus when it first began meeting in 2016.
“But this diverse group of voices learned how to resolve conflict and work together,” she said. “It’s truly an example of the Oregon way.”
Brown also praised OSU for its ability to mix recreational opportunities with research work. The governor noted that she recently made her first visit to the university’s McDonald-Dunn Research Forest north of Corvallis.
“It was amazing,” she said. “I was blown away by the variety of users and the number of kids that were out there.”
OSU plans to include recreational opportunities in the Elliott. Forestry Dean DeLuca said that there are very few trails in the Elliott, a void that the university plans to fill. He also noted that there is an extensive road network in the area, which could serve the same trail functions as those in the Mac-Dunn.
A total of 12 individuals spoke during the public comment period. Most supported the move to OSU management, although many had suggestions to make. Some appeared to be against harvesting Elliott timber for almost any purpose.
Jerry Franklin, a forestry professor at the University of Washington, urged OSU to concentrate more on scientific experiments and less on forest management.
Several commenters agreed with Treasurer Read that the university should look for opportunities to include other colleges in its management and research at the Elliott.
Bob Zybach of the Oregon Websites and Watersheds Project expressed concerns that there was not enough of an emphasis in the plan on fire risk, and he also criticized OSU’s reforestation plan.
“If you combine science with politics, you get politics,” Zybach said, quoting author John Barry from his book on the 1918 flu epidemic.
DeLuca spent 34 minutes outlining OSU’s proposal. A key facet is setting aside a reserve of 34,000 acres in which only thinning would take place. The swath would be the largest forest reserve in the Oregon Coast Range.
The remainder of the acreage would be managed using a “triad” approach in which parcels would be itemized as extensive (17%), intensive (18%) and reserve (65%). Intensive means more harvesting would be planned. Reserve means unmanaged stands, with extensive occupying the middle ground.
DeLuca said that 1% of the property, or about 735 acres, would be harvested each year. He projects that within 50 years 60,000 acres, or 73% of the Elliott, would consist of trees 100 years or older, a 50% increase from the present day.
DeLuca also revealed financial projections. He forecasts $5.7 million per year in harvest revenue and $2.3 million in forest management costs. The research operation, which would include 26 employees, would cost $5.5 million per year, leaving a deficit of $2.1 million.
DeLuca said he hoped to make up the difference with federal, state and private grants as well as philanthropy.
When the state began discussing the future of the Elliott, the Legislature appropriated $100 million to help offset the lost revenue to the Common School Fund. That still leaves a $121 million hole to fill given the $221 million value placed on the Elliott by state officials in 2017. No mention was made of that financial issue during Tuesday’s meeting.
Contact reporter James Day at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-812-6116. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.
ABOUT THE ELLIOTT
The Elliott State Forest covers 82,000 acres of low-elevation woodlands in the Coast Range north of Coos Bay, including significant stands of old-growth trees. Like many state forests in Oregon, it was organized to generate revenue for the Common School Fund through timber harvesting. But logging revenues have fallen short of expectations in recent decades, in part because the Oregon Department of Forestry also was managing the property for other values such as wildlife habitat, clean water and outdoor recreation.
Since the forest was established in 1930, revenue from timber harvest has been the primary way the forest contributes to the Common School Fund. Before 2013, the Elliott generated millions of dollars from harvesting on average about 1% of the forest per year. Since July 2012, because of harvest limitations prompted by a lawsuit over federally protected species, owning the Elliott has cost Oregon schools more than $3 million. The forest is projected to continue to lose money because of these restrictions.
The forest is named for F.A. Elliott, who was the state forester when the parcel became state property in 1913.
Research on trees, streams and ecosystems is also conducted throughout the university’s 10 forests: Peavy Arboretum, Blodgett, Cameron, Collins, Mattheson, Marchel, McDonald-Dunn, Oberteuffer, Ram’s Dell and Spaulding. Timber sales from the forests are used to support the College of Forestry and its mission.