Restrictions pushed Elliott forest sale

The Elliott State Forest, located in the Oregon Coast Range northeast of Coos Bay, is for sale. State officials have received a single bid for the 82,000-acre forest, which they decided to sell in 2014. It's a decision that has environmental groups up in arms.

Yet the state Land Board's decision may be the only way to put the land to the use for which it was intended. In turn, that's a reflection on the state of forestry in Oregon these days, and it's not a pretty picture.

The forest has its roots in the 3.5 million acres the federal government granted Oregon when it became a state. That land, much of which was scattered in parcels, was expected to produce income for the state's schools, and the state constitution requires that it be managed to do so. In 1930 the state and federal governments completed the land swap that gave the Elliott the form and location it has today.

The Land Board — made up of the governor, the treasurer and the secretary of state — is charged with managing the land for the benefit of K-12 education. It was a relatively easy task for years, when the forest generated millions of dollars of income from the sale of timber. Sales peaked in the mid-1980s, however, and with the federal listing of the northern spotted owl as threatened in 1990, the picture changed.

Combine that listing with lawsuits over many of the state's plans for the forest, and the decision to sell the Elliott almost seems like a foregone conclusion. Suits have challenged the state's habitat conservation plan and its decisions to sell timber — also a threat to the marbled murrelet, another bird listed as threatened — over the years.

Today the Elliott is a money loser. It does actually turn a profit some years, but generally not more than $1 million. Other years it actually costs the state more than is collected from timber sales.

No doubt that's why the Land Board got one bid, for exactly the appraisal price of the property. No one but Lone Rock Timber Management, working with the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians, thought it was worth even that much.

If environmental groups are unhappy with the decision to sell, they have only themselves to blame. Having brought logging and the revenue it generates to its knees, they've left the state with no other option.

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