(Updates with OSU-Cascades mention, news releases from each board member)
SALEM, Ore. (AP) - The Oregon State Land Board has ditched its plan to sell the Elliott State Forest, deciding to keep it in public hands and ordering the Department of State Lands to examine suggested options, including selling it to Oregon State University as a research forest while allowing timber harvesting, public access and protection of endangered species.
Supporters of a drive to keep Oregon's oldest state forest in public hands cheered Tuesday after the board, composed of the governor, secretary of state and state treasurer, made the unanimous decision.
It came just three months after the board voted 2-1 to sell the Coastal Range forest to a timber company and an Indian tribe.
Michael Rondeau, chief executive officer of the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua, said it was yet another blow to regional tribes.
Oregon State University had been invited by state Treasurer Tobias Read to become involved in the talks about the state retaining ownership of the forest.
Along with the benefits of research and education in the forest, OSU President Ed Ray noted that some options had involved the use of state bonding capacity.
“OSU’s potential involvement regarding the forest can not detract from our long-standing priority to secure bonding to finance the full expansion of the OSU-Cascades campus in Bend,” Ray said.
News release from Oregon Dept. of State Lands:
Salem -- The State Land Board today voted to keep the Common School lands within the Elliott State Forest (about 82,500 acres) in public ownership.
The Land Board members voted unanimously to terminate the "protocol" that was established in 2015 to seek alternative ownership of the forest. The Board directed the Department of State Lands to move forward with a new planning effort to keep the forest in public ownership.
At the meeting, each board member shared their ideas on possible public ownership plans for the Elliott.
Governor Brown's plan involves $100 million in state bonding to buy out high-conservation acres in a "trust land transfer" process, and securing an updated Habitat Conservation Plan to protect threatened species in the forest.
Treasurer Read's plan builds on the Governor's proposal, potentially transferring the entire forest at a future time to Oregon State University and the College of Forestry.
Secretary of State Richardson encouraged the Land Board and staff to investigate potential land exchanges with the federal government that would trade Elliott acreage for "commercial-grade" forest lands.
Several invited panelists provided information about the different plans, and the Board heard testimony from Jim Green of the Oregon School Boards Association, representing Common School Fund beneficiaries, and Michael Rondo of the Cow Creek Tribe, a partner with Lone Rock Timber in the one plan received in response to the protocol. About 35 people provided public testimony.
After a presentation on the Common School Fund's investment performance and projected distributions, the Land Board voted to continue to follow the distribution policy in place since 2009, distributing 4 percent of the three-year rolling average of the value of the fund.
More information on both agenda items is available on the State Land Board meetings webpage:
The State Land Board consists of Governor Kate Brown, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson and State Treasurer Tobias Read. The Department of State Lands administers diverse natural and fiscal resources. Many of the resources generate revenue for the Common School Fund, such as state-owned rangelands and timberlands, waterway leases, estates for which no will or heirs exist, and unclaimed property. Twice a year, the agency distributes fund investment earnings to support K-12 public schools. The agency also administers Oregon's Removal-Fill Law, which requires people removing or filling certain amounts of material in waters of the state to obtain a permit.
News release from Gov. Kate Brown:
Salem, OR—In a unanimous decision, the State Land Board today agreed to proceed with a plan to maintain the Elliott State Forest in public ownership. Governor Brown reiterated her commitment to keep the Elliott in public hands and acknowledged Legislative support for leveraging the State's bond capacity to fulfill the fiduciary obligations to the Common School Fund, while also protecting diverse habitats and ensuring public access to the lands.
"We must change the way we own and manage the forest to fulfill our fiduciary obligation to the Common School Fund, and to protect the Elliott's diverse habitats and guarantee long-term public access to the lands," said Governor Brown. "This can be achieved while creating jobs by supporting the sustainable harvest of timber. I appreciate the shared vision of Land Board members and unwavering commitment to honor the Common School Fund, as well as Treasurer Read's innovative proposal to involve Oregon State University in an adaptive habitat management plan and future research focus of the forest lands."
Following today's vote, Land Board members directed Department of State Lands (DSL) to continue developing plans for a public option and consider Treasurer Read's recommended research partnership with Oregon State University. Additional directions given to DSL include:
• A bond proposal will be developed to include up to $100 million in state bonding capacity to protect high value habitat, including riparian areas, steep slopes, and old growth stands.
• The Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) framework developed in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service establishes conservation and mitigation measures that meet the biological needs for the Elliott's native and endangered species.
• Collaboration with the Oregon State University College of Forestry to establish the Elliott as a research forest to study the relationship between active forest management and the conservation of the forest's diverse species and habitats.
• Continue working with sovereign tribal governments to explore ownership or additional forest management opportunities.
Details of the plan to keep the Elliott State Forest in public ownership are available here.
News release from State Treasurer Tobias Read:
Salem - Treasurer Tobias Read statement following May State Land Board meeting:
“Today the State Land Board put us on a path that both keeps the Elliott Forest in public hands and meets our constitutional obligation to manage the forest to benefit Oregon's public school students. By creating a structure that potentially allows us to transfer management and ownership to Oregon State University we have found a solution to a complex issue that has been weighing on the state for decades. This is a win for the public, a win for our environment, a win for our university, a win for our timber industry, and most importantly – a win for our state’s school children.”
News release from Secretary of State Dennis Richardson:
SALEM, OR — Today, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson proposed to increase funding for education while protecting the Elliott State Forest through a land exchange with the federal government. The federal government manages over half of the public land in Oregon and over the last decade has processed hundreds of land exchanges around the country. Instead of saddling Oregon’s children with debt to buy land already owned by Oregon, Richardson proposes a solution that balances competing concerns.
“My plan, The Oregon Way Forward, requires creative solutions to prioritize education for kids like my granddaughter, Rose,” said Richardson. “A land exchange could fund education, protect endangered species, and create family-wage jobs.”
During this morning’s State Land Board meeting, Richardson talked about his hopes and dreams for his granddaughter Rose and other Oregon children who, in order to thrive, need a strong education system. The passion Richardson has for providing good education is as if he were every Oregon child’s grandpa. Richardson expressed concerns about Oregon’s low graduation rates, large class sizes, lack of career training programs, and obstacles to equity. Children are Oregon’s most precious treasure. They deserve better.
The State Land Board has struggled for years with how to generate money for schools while protecting the Elliott’s sensitive habitat. A land exchange solves this dilemma by permanently protecting the Elliott while giving the state the opportunity to sustainably manage other lands that do not have similarly sensitive habitats. Maintaining the Elliott under public ownership, without the burden of additional debt, while funding education makes this plan a better option than other proposals under consideration.
Modeled on similar exchanges in Minnesota, Utah, and California, Richardson’s proposal would ensure public ownership of the Elliott by exchanging part of it for other federal lands in Oregon that are not habitats for endangered species. Such a transfer would enable sustainable management of commercial timberlands, thereby generating for the Common School Fund substantial funding for education. As part of the land exchange with the federal government, Richardson also expressed his strong desire that part of the Elliott be placed on a path to tribal ownership.
"Oregon’s tribes are the original environmentalists who have conserved forests as their ancestral homelands for thousands of years,” said Richardson. “We can trust our tribal partners to conserve and sustainably manage lands in the Elliott, once again, if given the opportunity.”