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Brown: 'OSU will be the best in the world' after bill converts acreage from timber production to research.

PMG PHOTO: PETER WONG - Gov. Kate Brown, center, uses one of about two dozen pens in a ceremony for Senate Bill 1546, which transfers the Elliott State Forest on Oregon's south coast to Oregon State University for research purposes and severs its requirement to generate income for the Common School Fund. Flanking her are state Treasurer Tobias Read and Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, the other members of the State Land Board, which had responsibility for the forest. Standing behind Brown during the April 12 ceremony at the State Lands Building in Salem is Vicki Walker, director of the Department of State Lands.Gov. Kate Brown says the transfer of the Elliott State Forest to management by Oregon State University will resolve a long-running controversy and opens the way to a different future for the south coast acreage.

"With the addition of this research forest, OSU will be the best in the world," she said to applause from the crowd gathered Tuesday, April 12, for a signing ceremony at the State Lands Building in Salem.

Brown actually signed Senate Bill 1546 on March 24. The law also severs the requirement for timber production on the forest to generate income for the Common School Fund, earnings from which are distributed to public schools. A $100 million bond will help pay for that transition, plus $121 million approved by the Legislature.

The law creates a separate forest agency, but it will be managed by OSU.

Brown said afterward that the bill, and separate legislation that affects 10 million acres of privately owned forest lands, resulted from years of negotiations involving timber and environmental interests, plus local and state officials and tribes.

"You had a small group of thoughtful Oregonians committed to creating a more positive future for Oregon in terms of the Elliott forest," she said. "I think with the format, the resources and the right people at the table, we were able to get it done."

PMG PHOTO: PETER WONG - State Treasurer Tobias Read speaks at a ceremony for the signing of Senate Bill 1546, which carries out Read's 2017 proposal to convert the Elliott State Forest on Oregon's south coast to Oregon State University for research purposes. The ceremony was Tuesday, April 12, at the State Lands Building in Salem.The State Land Board — which consists of the governor, the secretary of state and the state treasurer — had approved the sale of the 91,000-acre forest to a timber business in February 2017. But Treasurer Tobias Read, who had been in office only a few weeks, proposed the following month that the board consider an alternative that would keep the forest in public ownership.

"There were moments when I was not sure we were going to be able to achieve all of these competing interests. But instead of giving up, we saw something really wonderful: Competing interests coming together to find a solution," Read said.

"I think what we are celebrating today is some of the very best of Oregon. It shows that Oregonians can come together around a common vision and can disagree passionately, but still figure out a way to reach a compromise that represents a real win for Oregon."

Unique status

PMG PHOTO: PETER WONG - Gov. Kate Brown displays signed copies of Senate Bill 1546 after a ceremony Tuesday, April 12, at the State Lands Building in Salem. The legislation, which Brown actually signed on March 24, transfers the Elliott State Forest on Oregon's south coast to Oregon State University for research purposes. Standing between state Treasurer Tobias Read and Brown is Vicki Walker, director of the Department of State Lands; Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, seated at right, is the third member of the State Land Board.The Elliott State Forest, Oregon's first state forest, was created in 1930. It covers parts of Coos and Douglas counties. It was the only one directly under the State Land Board, which faced increased federal restrictions on logging that affected its output. Other state forest lands in Clatsop, Tillamook and Washington counties are overseen by the Department of Forestry.

Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, who took office in January 2021, is the board's newest member.

"It's like joining in the last 30 seconds to make an assist for the winning play," Fagan said half-jokingly, using an analogy to basketball.

Coos County Commissioner Melissa Cribbins, who grew up on the south coast, sat on the advisory committee that developed the transfer legislation.

"We care about it deeply and we want to see it well taken care of," Cribbins said. "I think the thing that has touched me the most through this whole process is seeing how many other people care about the Elliott. It's nice to see it being treated as a real asset and a jewel for the entire state."

Cribbins acknowledged that new questions about the health of forests have arisen with the advent of climate change, particularly as parts of Oregon are projected to become drier.

"The Elliott State Research Forest can help us answer so many of these questions," she said. "I hope that in the future, we will be able to base forest management policy decisions on scientific research we have gained from the Elliott."

Oregon State role

Read acknowledged the support from two deans of OSU's College of Forestry —Thomas Maness, who died in 2018, and Thomas DeLuca, who took the job in mid-2020.

PMG PHOTO: PETER WONG - Edward Feser, provost and executive vice president of Oregon State University, speaks at a ceremony for legislation that effectively transfers the management of the Elliott State Forest on the south coast to an agency that OSU will oversee for research purposes. The ceremony was Tuesday, April 12, at the State Lands Building in Salem. At right is Gov. Kate Brown, who presided over the ceremony for Senate Bill 1546.Speaking for OSU was Edward Feser, its provost and executive vice president.

"We are an enthusiastic partner in the creation of an extraordinary resource for Oregon's environment and its economy," he said. "A research forest with the scale and diversity of the Elliott is unique in the United States. There is work ahead to implement the legislation into reality. OSU is fully committed to doing its part as laid out in the legislation."

Brown said afterward that the same spirit of cooperation between timber and environmental interests resulted in the Private Forest Accord, which includes the financing of a new habitat conservation plan for Oregon's 10 million acres of private forest land that is due for completion by the end of this year. The long term plan in House Bill 4055, which the governor signed on March 17, calls for contributions from the state budget and a yet-to-be-set forest harvest products tax to pay for it and carry it out.

"They approached me and asked us to provide a forum in which to make it happen. We fought hard for the resources and the legislation to set up the process," Brown said. "The timing was right. People were tired of the fights … and it was perfect timing. Fortunately, we had resources that helped grease the skids."

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NOTE: Adds details from the legislation and related action by the 2022 Legislature.


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