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Future of Elliott State Forest remains on hold

The advisory committee tasked with looking at the feasibility of turning Elliott State Forest into a research forest managed by Oregon State University will take another year to give the State Land Board a recommendation.

But public testimony given at the board’s meeting Tuesday shows lukewarm interest in handing over the 82,000-acre coastal forest between Coos Bay and Reedsport to OSU’s College of Forestry, citing mismanagement of the school’s own McDonald-Dunn Forest as reason to leave the forest as is.

The board composed of Gov. Kate Brown, Secretary of State Bev Clarno and Treasurer Tobias Read held session for nearly four hours to hear updates from members of the Elliott State Research Advisory Committee on progress made in exploring a partnership between the Department of State Lands to turn Oregon’s oldest state forest into a living laboratory and outdoor classroom for students, researchers and managers to learn about forest ecosystems and management.

In 2017, the board decided not to sell Elliott State Forest to create revenue for Oregon’s Common School Fund, which is fed by money from harvests on state forests.

In December 2018, the board directed the state lands agency to work with OSU to propose a new plan for the forest that would develop a habitat conservation plan and create a new management system led by the school. The agency created a 17-member advisory committee to oversee the process.

One year and 10 meetings later, the committee isn’t any closer to making a recommendation.

“While our conversations have been productive, we’re not finished discussing and resolving these highly complex issues,” said Keith Tymchuk, committee member and former mayor of Reedsport. “Further conversation will be critical in a successful outcome, and the committee remains resolute in continuing our work as we recognize the importance of this endeavor.”

Anthony Davis, interim dean of OSU College of Forestry, addressed the board, giving an update on how those conversations with both State Lands officials and the committee are shaping up. According to Davis, the proposal is now focusing on helping solve the global climate and sustainability crisis with new research by OSU.

“Tremendous opportunity comes from being able to focus on long-term research,” Davis said.

The proposal wouldn’t be at odds with a recent Oregon Supreme Court decision that found the 2014 sale of nearly 800 acres of the forest was illegal, the land board was told.

Matt Devore, assistant attorney general representing the land board, said the case doesn’t affect the proposal because the state would still own the forest.

Among those speaking against the plan was Doug Pollock, who brought attention to OSU forestry researchers who harvested nearly 16 acres of old-growth trees — including one 420-year-old Douglas Fir — within the Benton County research forest earlier this year, sparking public outrage.

Pollock is founder of the Friends of OSU Old Growth, a group of nearly 600 individuals concerned with the protection of old forests and trees managed by OSU. He urged the board to be cautious in allowing OSU’s College of Forestry to manage Elliott State Forest.

“They have a long track record, decades of mismanagement of their forest. They abandoned their own research forest management plan 10 years ago and only recently reinstated it,” Pollock said. “This is a long history of what we see as failed management, and it comes from heavy timber industry financing of the college.”

file photoJoe Metzler walks across a fallen log over a creek in the Silver Grove surrounded by some trees in the grove that are over 220 years old on Oct. 27, 2016, in Elliott State Forest near Reedsport.