Elliott State Forest – Who would believe this???
The Elliott State Forest in Southwestern Oregon is a sad reminder of how far off center public forest management has become. The Elliott, once the quintessential managed forest boasting spectacular, rugged scenery and home to a world class Douglas fir forest, is now destined to be mired in bureaucratic gridlock as elected officials have punted on a rational solution to this unique forest.
Previously, the Elliott provided millions of dollars to Oregon’s Common School Fund while generating a once reliable supply of timber for local forest product manufacturers and loggers. This resulted in thousands of family-wage local jobs.
The Perfect Storm of environmentalist litigation, bureaucratic incompetence and timid elected officials led to the current situation that has the State of Oregon selling $100 million in bonds to pay for half the value of the Elliott to the Common School Fund.
Meanwhile, the State Land Board, the Constitutional manager of the Elliott, has retained the Department of Forestry, ODF, to negotiate a Habitat Conservation Plan, HCP, with the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Wait, isn’t that how we got here?
ODF spent ten years in a failed try to negotiate an HCP with the Federal agencies. The futile effort led the SLB of John Kitzhaber, Kate Brown and Ted Wheeler to give up on the effort and adopt a modified Endangered Species Act strategy which led to litigation. The Department of Justice surrendered without a fight and paid the environmental non-profits $400,000.
The lack of timber revenue led to a failed attempt to sell the Elliott in order to meet their responsibilities to the CSF by the Kitzhaber-Brown-Wheeler SLB. Governor Kate Brown and new Treasurer Tobias Read flipped flopped over and over enough to torpedo the sale to Lone Rock Resources the only bidder for the $220.8 million Elliott.
Now we have Oregon spending twice as much in bonds to pay the CSF for half of the Elliott, all the while for a forest it already owns. It is only believable if own has witnessed the decades of twists and turns over the Elliott.
Let’s not forget that the Oregon State University School of Forestry is trying to raise $120 million to pay for the balance of the Elliott. Forestry Dean Thomas Maness wants to turn the once hard-working Elliott into a research/experimental forest to explore forest management and endangered species relationships.
Meanwhile, the CSF is on the hook for the forest and road management costs and fire protection assessments as ODF again tries to negotiate and implement an HCP. As we have seen for the past 25 years, nothing with the Elliott happens quickly. Stay tuned.