by Rod Sando for The Register-Guard
June 5, 2016
June 5, 2016
Defying the will of most Oregonians, our elected leaders in Salem are deep into a process to privatize the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest northeast of Coos Bay.
More than likely, this treasured rain forest will be snatched up by equity investors looking to maximize revenue, which will mean more clear-cuts, muddied rivers and “private property” signs, and less access to some of the finest public lands in Western Oregon. The disposal process should be jettisoned immediately and replaced by one that embraces values Oregonians hold closely.
The State Land Board, made up of Gov. Kate Brown, Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins and Treasurer Ted Wheeler, needs a fresh approach that recognizes the many important public values Elliott supports while generating income for the school trust fund.
The State Land Board should also be reminded of the passion many Oregonians hold for public lands, as evidenced by the reaction to the armed takeover earlier this year of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
While school trust lands help support kindergarten through 12th grade education in Oregon, these lands also support many values enjoyed by the public.
The Elliott State Forest is a place where fish and wildlife reside, where families go elk hunting every fall, and where anglers wet their lines in search of salmon and steelhead. The old forests of the Elliott store incredible amounts of carbon, thereby mitigating climate change at no cost, and provide clean water to communities downstream.
Even though Elliott is made up of school trust lands, logging is not an exclusive mandate for the forest.
Oregon’s attorney general issued an opinion in 1992 that said the management of these lands must abide by the provisions of the state and federal endangered species laws while also generating revenue. In its quest to ramp up the cut in Elliott in 2012, the state of Oregon ignored the Endangered Species Act, which resulted in reduced timber payments to the school fund.
In response, the state proposed to dump the forest, and now we are embroiled in this privatization scheme.
The future management of Elliott needs to be sensitive to the wide range of benefits that this public forest provides while continuing to produce revenue for schools. This is entirely possible, and simply requires that forest plans and management methods are revised to do just that. It is appropriate to manage for revenues, but operations need to avoid long-term damage to the productivity of the forest and its myriad other benefits, and needless management costs need to be reduced.
It makes sense to negotiate a Habitat Conservation Plan that would keep the forest in public ownership, provide protection to imperiled salmon and wildlife, allow restoration-based thinning in Elliott’s plantation forests that could generate local jobs and timber products, and contribute revenue to the school fund. Ultimately, it would provide certainty and balance into the future.
In 1968, the people of Oregon amended the state Constitution to require that school trust lands, like those found in Elliott, be managed by using sound management methods that do not impair the many beneficial uses of the forest lands while also generating revenue. This clear legal direction is possible to achieve by using sustainable management practices while keeping the forest in public ownership.
It is time for Gov. Brown, Secretary of State Atkins and Treasurer Wheeler to ditch this privatization plan and show leadership around this issue, especially since the forest will only become more valuable to our society and the school trust as time goes on.
Removing Elliott from public ownership will remain controversial and will preclude future generations from enjoying substantial benefits from this unique and valuable resource.
Our leaders need to get it right before it is too late.
Rod Sando of Woodburn is a past director of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, where he oversaw management of trust lands.