Current Issues
Elliott State Forest:

The Elliott State Forest was established in 1930 when the State of Oregon completed a land exchange with the US Forest Service. The State contributed lands from the Common School Fund asset base which was a gift to the State from the Federal Government when Oregon was admitted to the Union in 1854. The Common School Fund lands were given in trust that required the lands be managed to maximize revenues for the benefit of Oregon's schools. The gift was two sections (640 acres apiece) of land in every township in Oregon, totaling over 4 million acres. A township is 6 square miles and contains 36 sections of land. The Common School Fund lands were hard to manage because they were scattered across all of Oregon and some had already been claimed by homesteaders before Oregon became a State. In addition, the National Forests in Oregon created by President Teddy Roosevelt in the early 1900's overlaid the sections in the Common School Fund within the National Forest boundaries. To solve this dilemma, Francis Elliott, Oregon's first State Forester, proposed an exchange resulting in 80,000 acres of the Siuslaw National Forest south of the Umpqua River in Douglas and Coos Counties becoming the Common School Forest lands. Through subsequent land swaps, the Elliott was expanded to 93,000 acres.

The new Elliott State Forest was a young forest having originated after the Coos Bay Fire of 1868 that wiped out 300,000 acres of mature timber from Scottsburg south and west to the shores of Coos Bay. In 1930, the timber would have been about 50 years old and just barely of merchantable size. By the late 1940's the State Legislature directed the State Forester to start managing 93,000 acres of timber that had few access roads and was in steep terrain. Timber sales of the isolated mature timber stands that did not burn in the 1868 fire were harvested and the timber value was used to pay for the road system that eventually blanketed the Forest. Over 500 miles of single lane rock roads with turnouts were eventually constructed. By the 70 and 80's, the State was sustainably harvesting, with timber sales sold to local mills, 50 to 55 million board feet (mmbf) annually, contributing significantly to the growing Common School Fund. Today this Fund exceeds $1.3 billion. The Elliott grows 75 mmbf annually.

While all of the road construction and logging was occurring, the Northern Spotted Owl started nesting in the forest as did the Marbled Murrelet, a small seabird that nests in trees on land in the summer and spends the rest of its time in the ocean. In 1992, the Northern Spotted Owl was listed as an endangered species and harvesting on the Elliott was brought to a standstill. A couple of years later the Murrelet was also listed, further complicating any timber harvest. The State negotiated a Habitat Conservation Plan with the US Fish and Wildlife Service that allowed harvesting to resume at the rate of 25 mmbf per year. A later listing of the Coho salmon brought the National Marine Fisheries Service to the table, further complicating management of the Elliott Forest.

In 2001, the State Land Board directed the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) to update the Elliott HCP to increase the harvest to 40 mmbf to make the Elliott once again contribute excess funds to the Common School Fund. The 25 mmbf harvest level was not an economically viable proposition for the School Fund. The ODF developed the new plan and got buy-in from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. However, the National Marine and Fisheries Service would not agree and after 5 years of futile negotiations in December 2011 the State Land Board opted to forego the HCP with its incidental take permit and instead manage the Forest under a take avoidance strategy like most private timberland managers do in Western Oregon. The new plan barely got implemented when a lawsuit was filed against the ODF alleging several timber sales would harm "Take" Marbled Murrelets. The suit was settled with timber sales being cancelled and no plan has yet been put in place to restore timber sales to provide revenues to the Common School Fund. This is the dilemma we find ourselves in today and a solution is slow in coming with the ODF attempting to find a way to reinstate an HCP and the State Land Board trying to figure out what to do with the Elliott. Unfortunately this is costing the Common School Fund maintenance expenditures related to fire protection and road maintenance totaling more than $1 million per year.

Current Issues

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