The Department of State Lands today announced that they have a single bid to purchase the Elliott State Forest, led by Roseburg-based Lone Rock Timber Company. Without commenting on the specifics of the submitted proposal, Ecotrust firmly believes that the Elliott is an Oregon State treasure like no other—and that we cannot afford to lose its many public values forever.
Ecotrust was one of four dozen parties to submit a formal expression of interest in the future of the Elliott last spring, and this week we submitted a letter to the state land board requesting an extension of the transfer opportunity process. You can read the full text of our letter here, but here are ten things we think are important considerations as the process moves forward:
- The Elliott Transfer Opportunity has revealed that the Elliott is invaluable from a public conservation and cultural resource perspective. Ecotrust firmly believes the Elliott should be in public or tribal ownership, and has formally expressed our interest to the Department of State Lands in securing the long-term protection of this invaluable property.
- The Elliott is the most significant, viable marbled murrelet habitat outside of federal lands in the State of Oregon with new occupied sites consistently showing up, despite being under-surveyed for the presence of the sea-faring bird. It is also home to nine other Endangered Species Act listed, proposed, and candidate species and over six dozen species of concern. The Elliott is also critical for the protection and recovery of Oregon coastal coho, supporting close to a quarter of the State’s wild population.
- Endangered Species Act liabilities challenged the State’s timber-focused management and resulted in the State losing more than $5 million from 2013-2014.
- The Department of State Lands (DSL) requirements for protection of public values are inadequate to safeguard the important current and potential future marbled murrelet habitat. DSL requires only 20,625 acres to be protected from harvest in perpetuity, and has made it clear that these protected acres can be stands of any age. So protection of old growth forest and most critical habitat is not secure. The DSL has also made clear that to meet this requirement for permanently protected acres the new owner can include riparian buffers and move these protected areas around the landscape over time. There are currently 37,338 acres of older forest on the Elliott. The DSL minimum requirements would protect 50% at most of these unique stands but will likely protect less.
- The DSL did work hard to come up with a process that is transparent and that forced coalitions of unlikely partners.
- However, the process we are working within is best-suited for commercial timberland companies, TIMOs, and integrated forest products companies. The three and a half-month timeframe between the end of July through mid-November did not allow the conservation community to obtain enough certainty or confidence around public conservation or private philanthropic funding, therefore limiting our ability to participate in a coalition.
- Ecotrust and partners have identified viable financing opportunities for a conservation-focused management plan, but raising $220.8 million, to finance the desired public benefits in 3.5 months (from the time when the fair market value was released at the end of July) is not adequate for anyone outside the timber and financial investment industries.
- We see a way forward for the management of the Elliott in the manner that would enable the restoration and protection of the forest’s natural and cultural resources and also support the production of high-quality, timber through thoughtful, ecological forest management that would be certified to the highest third-party standards. Our vision for the management of the Elliott includes provision of public access for hunting and recreation, jobs for local communities, while expanding riparian buffers and extending protection for all stands older than 80 years of age, using a combination of carbon and conservation funding to support their protection.
- We also support the opportunity for tribal land repatriation at a meaningful scale, in a manner that would include tribes with an interest in the Elliott and allow for time and a process that could engage them.
- Following last week’s election, which puts the current protections on our federal forest lands at risk, Oregon has an even greater opportunity demonstrate our commitment to protecting our most valuable natural resources.
We sincerely hope that Governor Brown, Secretary Atkins, Treasurer Wheeler, and Director Paul will give this important opportunity the full consideration it demands.