by Robin Meacher, Cascadia Wildlands' Wildlands Campaign Director
The Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) continues to forge ahead with the sale of the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest located east of Coos Bay. While conservation groups, school children, recreationists and hunters and anglers continue to enjoy the Elliott for the host of opportunities it offers, Cascadia Wildlands continues to see Big Timber and equity investors show increased interest in becoming the new owner of this incredible coastal forest.
The potential transfer of ownership raises red flags for both conservation and public access. The Elliott provides some of the highest quality habitat remaining in the Oregon Coast Range for the imperiled marbled murrelet and endangered salmon. The murrelet is a coastal sea bird that nests exclusively in old-growth forest and its presence on the forest has greatly reduced the amount of logging that can take place in the Elliott.
The previous sale of three parcels of the Elliott resulted in immediate closure with "No Trespassing" signs posted to keep the public out. The sale of the entire Elliott to timber interests will likely result in similar access being restricted thereby blocking the public from visiting a substantial portion of this coastal gem.
Cascadia Wildlands' Endangered Species Act lawsuit on the Elliott in 2012 and our current lawsuit challenging the the disposal of the 788-acre East Hakki parcel have legal implications that are being downplayed by the DSL throughout the current ownership transfer process. We recently submitted a letter to interested parties in the Elliott sale process to explain the complex legal issues and to augment the lack of information on the legal history provided by DSL. With ESA protections for the murrelet on the forest and our alleged illegality of selling the majority of the Elliott, the sale process designed by DSL likely creates uncertainty for investors. Cascadia Wildlands and partners continue to engage the State in this process and advocate for protection of the outstanding public and conservation values on the forest. We've crafted a petition to Governor Kate Brown asking her to ensure the forest stays in public ownership. As a member of the State Land Board, the body that gave the green light to the sale process, the Governor can stand up for Oregon's public lands and keep the Elliott in public hands. Stay tuned as well for two public hikes hosted by Cascadia Wildlands this spring.
(Elliott State Forest photo by Cascadia Wildlands)