Oregonians Deserve Public Forests
Selling the Elliott State Forest is only latest chapter of mismanagement
Guest editorial reprinted from The Oregonian
Ever since members of the State Land Board voted to auction off an irreplaceable part of Oregon’s Elliott State Forest, they have tried to characterize their decision as a reasonable compromise to a difficult challenge. But the on-the-ground reality shows Oregon’s history of managing state lands has been far from balanced or reasonable.
For years, state land managers have failed to comply with the federal Endangered Species Act in managing state forests, allowing thousands of acres of old-growth and other forest habitat to be logged. In 2013, due to litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity, where I work, as well as the Audubon Society of Portland and Cascadia Wildlands, 1,700 acres of timber sales were suspended due to ESA violations related to the marbled murrelet, a rare, protected sea bird.
Faced with the prospect of managing instead of simply logging valuable public lands in the Elliott, the state claimed its only choice was to sell some of those lands. That misguided response is now barreling forward, with the fair market value of part of Elliott’s mature forests to be offered for sale.
The state says it has to find a way to generate income for schools from the Elliott, because education funding was part of the forest’s mandate when it was created. In fact, logging revenue from the Elliott has always represented a fraction of Oregon’s education budget. And the lion’s share of money from logging has always gone to timber companies, not schoolchildren.
Oregon’s ongoing focus on logging over habitat protections prompted the Center for Biological Diversity to join two June 2016 petitions seeking greater protections for murrelets. One asks the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to “uplist” the seabird from “threatened” to “endangered” status under Oregon law and the other asks the Oregon Board of Forestry to take new measures to identify and protect the bird’s forest habitats.
These petitions reflect what every Oregon school kid knows: The best way to protect the long-term interests of the next generation is to protect our forests, not just for our enjoyment or for species like marbled murrelets but because they hold part of the key to a livable future climate. A 2011 analysis showed an unlogged Elliott would store approximately 46 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2050, equivalent to approximately two-thirds of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2007.
Selling our public lands is only the latest cop-out from state regulators who have routinely refused to do the hard work of managing Oregon’s public lands not simply as a profit center but as a public trust. Allowing an irreplaceable part of the natural world that still defines Oregon to fall into private hands is a risk that neither our children, nor Oregon’s already fragmented coastal forests, can afford.
Tanya Sanerib is a senior attorney at the Portland office of the Center for Biological Diversity.
Originally published at www.oregonlive.com.