(Thanks to Anna Fay for contributing to the writing of this piece)
OSU proposal to "Repurpose" the Elliott Forest is effectively a plan to cut and gut what is the largest remaining continuous Coastal Old Growth. This is NOT what the Land Board was intending when they stopped the sale of the Forest following massive opposition in the State. I call on candidate-elect for Secretary of State, Shemia Fagan to reject the proposed OSU Elliott Research Forest plan, immediately halt its movement forward and begin to work with environmental groups and the public to craft a plan that centers on biodiversity, habitat, conservation and the climate--and not industrial forestry..
OSU/DSL plan of a 'working research forest' or proposal is not conducive to conservation goals. So-called 'working forest' landscapes are exactly what has caused the massive loss of biodiversity and the listings of once-abundant endangered species. The average age that trees are allowed to get on 'working forests' is 35-45 years old, and it is a monocrop plantation on clearcut rotations, it is continuously degrading the land and is not suitable habitat. The OSU/DSL proposal allows for the mechanized cutting of mature (over 2X the average age of the oldest trees harvested from privately-owned timber plantations) soon-to-be-old growth trees, which will destroy the chances of enlarging suitable habitat for endangered species in the heavily-industrialized central coast range. Therefore pushing the several endangered species present in the Elliott towards extinction (the northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet, and the coastal Coho salmon).
OSU Department of Forestry has very close relationships with the timber industry and timber baron families and should not be and is not trusted to care for old growth forests by the general public, those in the conservation community, and even veteran foresters in the state. Their track record on their own so-called 'research forests' has been abysmal, and as you know they even clearcut 16-acres of old growth in the midst of forming this relationship/proposal with the DSL. There was no accountability nor explanation for what happened and they have been notoriously hard for journalists or members of the public to contact and get answers from (complete lack of transparency, thick layer of bureaucracy).
In addition, the University is dealing with a massive budget shortfall due to their expensive new Dept. of Forestry building, as well as revenue hits due to Covid. The forestry building, mind you, received massive financial contributions from Oregon's largest land-exploiting tax-dodging politician-palm-greasing deforester corporations and families (a scandalous institute)
If the DSL was serious about protecting endangered species they would have made meetings and a proposal with the 10+ environmental groups who have been involved in protecting the Elliott (from rapacious state-sponsored old growth logging) for decades, and not with the timber industry CEO's and their representatives in academia at OSU Dept. of [de]Forestry. Less than 10% of primary old growth remains after a century of so-called 'active management' under the 'working forests' paradigm. Yet OSU, claiming to be a 'leader in sustainability' still somehow ''by mistake'' clearcut 16-acres of old growth in a so-called 'research forest'.
A proposal from an ecological perspective would be from the standpoint that Parks and Wilderness are the foundation to conservation. Only 4% of Oregon is protected as Wilderness, compared to nearly 10% in Washington and 15% in California. Our newest Wilderness is the Devil's Staircase, located just south of the Elliott, in the vast monocrop tree plantation that is the central coast range. An ecological and biocentric proposal would be to allow the Elliott to become a Wilderness, perhaps with a park and trails in the areas with existing access. In wilderness, only non-mechanized tools are used for tree work, which would mean less potential disturbance to the sensitive endangered birds that call the Elliott home.
The sprinkling of natural spaces in Oregon are extremely popular and many are often overcrowded. We need more Parks and Wilderness for people to immerse in nature and to really experience what used to be everywhere before the industry destroyed so much. A healthy forest is nourishing to the soul, mind, body and spirit. There is also very little environmental tourism to the central coast, and if there were more protected spaces with campsites or trails there would be benefits to the local economy that are more sustainable (non-exploitative, non-polluting), healthy, long-term and localized.
The Elliott is Oregon's first and only old growth state forest and it should not under any circumstances be given away for the OSU Department of Forestry to convert to clearcuts and industrialized tree plantations. Any chipping away at its edges, habitat fragmentation and degradation will imperil the future of the endangered species that live there and surely will lead to continued protest, public outrage and lawsuits.
If OSU would like to conduct conservation research, they should ask their friends in the timber industry to donate to OSU their 'working forests' located between the Elliott and the Devil's staircase. Then the OSU Department of Forestry can do research there on how to continue to log as they wish and research 'working forests' and perhaps how, if at all even possible, to rehabilitate the degraded land and allow for suitable habitat to develop that in the future can be a wildlife corridor and habitat connectivity/continuity between the two Wildernesses.