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Oregon’s new Elliott research forest declared North America’s largest

The Elliott State Forest.  Coastal old growth, like that found in the Elliott State Forest, is prime nesting habitat of the threatened marbled murrelet.
Francis Eatherington
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The Elliott State Forest. Coastal old growth, like that found in the Elliott State Forest, is prime nesting habitat of the threatened marbled murrelet.

The State Land Board at long last approves the creation of the Elliott State Research Forest, meant to end years of debate over what to do about a state forest that no longer generates enough money for education.

Oregon has what it’s calling North America’s largest research forest, following Tuesday’s decision by top state officials to finalize the redesignation of the Elliott State Forest in southwest Oregon into a place for scientific discovery.

The creation of the 80,000-acre Elliott State Research Forest signals an end to a years-long debate over how to manage a state forest in southwest Oregon that was failing to generate revenue for public education.

The board approved the transition of the Elliott from a traditional state forest to a research site, decoupling the forest from the Common School Fund, which relies on revenue from the sale of timber on state forests, among other resources, to help pay for public education in Oregon.

The Elliott forest will remain in public ownership in collaboration with Oregon State University.

The Elliott provides habitat to dwindling wildlife populations, including salmon, the northern spotted owl and the marbled murrelet. Oregon political leaders have been struggling for decades to find a way for the forest to comply with wildlife protection requirements while continuing to meet a legal obligation that the forest generate revenue for public schools.

State officials said the Elliott will continue to contribute to conservation, recreation, education, local economies and more as a publicly owned, working research forest.

“The Elliott will provide a better approach for working forest management, improve conservation protections and, significantly, keep the forest in public hands,” Treasurer Tobias Read said in a statement. “We can be proud that current and future generations of Oregonians will benefit from this valuable natural resource.”

Read was joined by Gov. Kate Brown and Secretary of State Shemia Fagan in approving the final plan.

The use of natural resources to pay for education in Oregon dates back to statehood in 1859. Revenues from logging on state forests have historically gone to the Common School Fund. While state income tax and local property tax now serve as major funding sources for education, the requirement to make up for the loss in revenue from timber harvest on the Elliott is significant.

Before the plan to turn the Elliott into a research forest, the land was no longer generating enough revenue to cover the costs of managing it and state considered selling much of it.

Tuesday’s vote was enabled by the Legislature’s approval of a bill that transferred $221 million into the Common School Fund to replace revenue that logging on the Elliott might otherwise have generated.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

David Steves