Editor's note: The Elliott, Oregon’s oldest state forest, hosts an array of invaluable characteristics. However, as part of Oregon’s Common School Fund, for decades its primary value has been measured solely by timber receipts, which, in recent years, have diminished, resulting in the Oregon State Land Board’s decision to put the forest up for sale. Following a valuation of the property at $221 million in June 2016, only one bid was submitted by the November deadline.
On December 13, the State Land Board hosted a public hearing where 80 people testified on the sale. Governor Kate Brown concluded the meeting with an invitation for additional proposals, offering a $100 million state bond to help finance offers that maximize public benefit of the forest. Our VP of Forests and Ecosystem Services, Brent Davies, testified at the hearing on the transfer of the Elliott State Forest, making recommendations for a path forward. A transcript of her comments is below:
Governor Brown, Secretary Atkins, and Treasurer Wheeler:
My name is Brent Davies, and I am the Vice President of Forests and Ecosystem Services for Ecotrust.
Ecotrust believes the Elliott State Forest is an Oregon legacy that should stay in public or tribal ownership. Despite the hard work of the Department of State Lands and formal interest expressed by dozens of organizations, the receipt of only one bid tells us that the process and timeline were not conducive to a robust response.
We are now very excited by the Governor’s exploration of alternative approaches. And we are grateful for your interest and active involvement in this issue of such importance to Oregonians.
Your exploration of alternative approaches, including public and tribal ownership, presents a significant opportunity for Oregon to decouple its public lands management from the Common School Fund and improve the predictability and stability of educational funding levels.
With the Governor’s leadership and vision, we are confident that a diverse group of stakeholders could secure the resources necessary to protect the many unique public benefits provided by the Elliott and treasured by Oregonians.
Ecotrust sees a path forward with fewer potential risks for the State through the reopening of the Elliott Transfer Opportunity with State bond financing and the opportunity for both the State and tribes to acquire low interest loans through the Clean and/or Drinking Water State Revolving Funds. Together, these two sources could reach the $220.8 million price of the Elliott, and the loans could be repaid through careful harvests and the bond financing over the next ten years.
The Oregon Consensus program is one option that is well-suited to bring the forest industry, tribes, environmental organizations, agencies, and communities together. The Land Board and the Governor’s office could direct a task force, facilitated by Oregon Consensus, to craft and deliver a draft Elliott State Forest Plan to the Governor, Land Board, and Legislature that:
A) Retains public ownership and includes a meaningful ownership role for the tribes;
B) Decouples the need for school funding from revenue generated on public lands;
C) Commits management to a multi-generational legacy of public benefits;
D) Creates jobs, economic diversity and opportunity for local communities and the State;
E) Supports active management; and
F) Is a model for how public lands can be managed for their suite of public benefits.
We look forward to working with you on this opportunity.