Oregon State University has been asked by state Treasurer Tobias Read to engage in discussions with the State Land Board regarding options to retain public ownership of the Elliott State Forest.
“OSU and its College of Forestry have long advocated for investments in comprehensive, sustained research and data collection to better inform the relationship between forest management and conservation of listed species,” said OSU President Ed Ray. “With the right management structure, the Elliott State Forest could offer a great opportunity for research and education that would have long-term benefits for our state.”
Ray said that three principles have guided the university’s consideration of options involving the forest.
“First, the university has no interest in contributing to the disruption of a sale of the forest that previously received a majority of support by the State Land Board,” Ray said. “The university became actively involved in discussions regarding alternative plans only after it became clear that the governor and state treasurer would not support the sale of the forest.
“Second, since options involving the Elliott State Forest may involve the use of state bonding capacity, OSU’s potential involvement regarding the forest can not detract from our long-standing priority to secure bonding to finance the full expansion of the OSU-Cascades campus in Bend.
“Third, there must be a funding structure created by the state to support the research and education within the Elliott State Forest that is contemplated by the land board going forward.”
In an effort to ensure that the assets of the forest contribute to the state’s Common School Fund, the State Land Board over the past year has sought to sell the forest for a minimum of $220.8 million – an amount determined by appraisal.
Last year, the Lone Rock Timber Company and the Cow Creek Tribe made a joint bid of $220.8 million to purchase the Elliott State Forest. In February, over Gov. Kate Brown’s objections, the State Land Board voted 2-1 to accept that bid. Subsequently, Brown and Read undertook efforts to retain the public ownership of the forest and determine a financial instrument to contribute to the state’s Common School Fund, with the possibility of ultimately divesting the forest from the Common School Fund altogether.
On Thursday, Read issued a statement supporting involvement of OSU’s College of Forestry in research within the Elliott. In addition, he said he supported providing OSU a possible option to purchase the forest at some future date. The option to purchase would be at OSU’s discretion and would be partially based on the outcome of efforts to establish a Habitat Conservation Plan for the forest under the federal Endangered Species Act.
“Working with OSU’s College of Forestry provides the state of Oregon an opportunity to engage in comprehensive and sustained research to better inform the relationship between active forest management and conservation of listed species,” Ray said.
“OSU research could provide a scientific basis to help guide the development of a Habitat Conservation Plan and future management of the forest. This plan would provide greater certainty regarding the forest’s management and would need to support a well-defined and financially sustainable business plan.”
A purchase of the forest would be subject to review and approval by the OSU Board of Trustees.
Ray and Thomas Maness, dean of the College of Forestry, will provide testimony on OSU’s engagement in discussions about the Elliott State Forest during a May 9 meeting of the State Land Board.