Oregon governor wants an idea other than sale of state forest to raise school funds

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown suggested on Dec. 13 that the state’s Land Board should look for an alternative to the sale of Elliott State Forest as a way to raise funds to support public schools.

The proposed sale of the forest, which accounts for about two-thirds of the lands that support the Beaver State’s Common School Fund, has drawn one bid. The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians and Lone Rock Timber Management Co. of Roseburg offered to pay about $220 million for the forest, which includes about 84,000 acres.

“Oregon’s public lands – our forests, parks, and beaches – are irreplaceable assets,” Brown said. “Even in the face of complicated challenges, we must strive to protect the values that Oregonians hold dear. Those include hunting, fishing, and hiking in the woods; they include the habitat for the marbled murrelet, northern spotted owl, and coastal coho salmon; and they include jobs critical to our rural economies.”

Elliott State Forest, Oregon – image courtesy Oregon Department of Forestry

The governor suggested that the Land Board, on which she serves as one of three members, instead consider the use of bonding authority in an amount up to $100 million as a way to contribute financially to the Common School Fund.

Located in the southwestern region of the state, the Elliott State Forest was the first established in Oregon’s system of state forests.

The proposed sale is not the only reason that the state’s management of the forest has been controversial. In 2011 the Land Board decided to increase the annual timber harvest there, increasing the annual harvest from 25 million to 40 million board feet and granting timber companies more latitude to engage in clear cutting.

The question whether a private purchaser of Elliott State Forest would be able to harvest timber there received new attention later in December as a federal judge in Eugene blocked an effort to clear-cut 49 acres.

U.S. district judge Ann Aiken found that the proposed timber extraction by Scott Timber Co., a subsidiary of the giant Roseburg Forest Products, would likely harm the marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus).

B. marmoratus is a crepuscular sea bird and a member of the auk family. It nests in old-growth trees in forests along the country’s west coast from Alaska to south-central Florida.

Listed as a threatened species in California, Oregon, and Washington by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service since 1992, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is considering a petition that asks it to shift B. marmoratus from threatened to endangered status under state law.

“This demonstrates the incredible cynicism that underpins the state’s efforts to sell the Elliott off to private timber interests,” Bob Sallinger, conservation director of Portland Audubon Society, said. “Not only does it put fish and wildlife species at risk and eliminated use for future generations, but it also is predicated on those private timber companies returning to the illegal logging practices that the state was forced to abandon.”

The Oregon State Land Board may decide at its February meeting whether to adopt Brown’s proposal.

The marbled murrelet is a reclusive sea bird that relies on old-growth forests, such as Oregon’s Elliott State Forest, for nest sites. Image courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.