On Tuesday, May 10, sportsmen and women won a huge victory when the Oregon State Land Board voted unanimously to keep the Elliott State Forest in public hands.
The 80,000 acre Elliott is a popular area of public lands with high habitat and sporting values for salmon, steelhead and trout, deer, elk and other game species. The land board had been considering a sale of the Elliott to private timber and tribal interests.
This victory was the culmination of an “all hands on deck approach” taken by grassroots volunteers and national staff with Trout Unlimited. TU’s Oregon Council Executive Director, Tom Wolf, was engaged on this issue for years, attending numerous meetings in the state capital and provided public testimony at the hearing. Other TU staff and volunteers also had a hand in this outcome, including many sportsmen who used TU’s Action Alert to contact members of the State Land Board to oppose the sell-off of the Elliott.
Dean Finnerty, SW Oregon organizer for TU’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project (who has a home a couple of miles from the Elliott State Forest) spoke out against the proposed sale at several public meetings and recently guided national news organizations on tours of the Elliott to help shine a light on how public access and sporting opportunities depend on keeping such places in public hands.
A diverse group of conservation, environmental and sportsmen groups contributed to this victory. Our partners included the Wild Salmon Center, Oregon Hunters Association, the Association of NW Steelheaders, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. Together, our members, friends and affiliates made hundreds of phone calls and sent thousands of e-mails to Oregon’s governor, secretary of state and state treasurer. This outcome demonstrates what we can do when we work collaboratively and make our voices heard on behalf of public lands, which are so important for our fishing and hunting opportunities in this country.
What happens next for the Elliott? The Oregon Department of State Lands has been directed by the Land Board to explore options. One option (proposed by the governor) would direct the legislature to create a $100 million bond measure. That money would be used to purchase half of the forest and the proceeds would go to the Common School Fund to help Oregon students. Under this proposal, the other half of the forest would be managed through a Habitat Conservation Plan that would need approval from federal agencies tasked with managing ESA listed species like coho salmon, marbled murrelets and spotted owls, all of which call the Elliott State Forest home.
Another option proposed by the state treasurer would sell the forest (valued at a little over $220 million) to Oregon State University to allow its world renowned forestry school to conduct research on the forest that would help guide and improve the science of forest management throughout the Northwest. This proposal also would keep the forest open to the public for recreation.
A proposal brought forward by the Oregon Secretary of State would transfer the Elliott to the federal government in exchange for similar sized parcels of federal forest land with less controversial habitat. The state could then actively manage this land for timber harvest to fund the Common School Fund.
Trout Unlimited, Wild Steelheaders United and our partners will continue to stay engaged on this issue, to ensure that the Elliott State Forest will remain in public hands and one of Oregon’s best hunting and fishing grounds.