- Associated Press - Monday, December 8, 2014

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) - The state has dropped a proposal to sell the Elliott State Forest, where environmental protections have made it impossible to log enough to generate money for public schools.

After seven months of meeting with the public, interest groups and experts, the Department of State Lands issued a report Monday that concludes most people want the forest in the Coast Range south of Reedsport to remain open to the public.

“The one thread that really went through most of the feedback we got from the public was keep the Elliott open to the public,” department spokeswoman Julie Curtis said.

The report, including four alternatives for a way forward, will be presented Tuesday to the State Land Board in Salem.

Among the possibilities are keeping the forest in state ownership while continuing to look for some way to log more without running afoul of endangered species protections, and finding a new owner, such as another state agency, a public-private partnership, a tribe, or the federal government.

Curtis said the Land Board, made up of the governor, state treasurer and secretary of state, is expected to provide some direction for more research. The goal is to come up with a preferred alternative in a year. If the choice is returning the forest to federal ownership, that could take a number of years.

The Elliott covers 90,000 acres and includes some of the last of the older forest in the Coast Range, where most forests are privately owned and heavily logged. As the state tried to increase logging to meet local demand for logs and revenue, it ran into difficulties meeting federal requirements to protect habitat for threatened northern spotted owls, marbled murrelets and coho salmon.

Most of the forest is made up of Common School Fund lands, which since statehood have helped pay for schools. The forest once contributed $6 million to $8 million a year to the fund but has turned into a $3 million expense.

Monday’s report was cheered by conservation groups, which had forced the state to withdraw timber sales that would have cut trees favored as nesting sites by the marbled murrelet, a threatened sea bird.

“I think they recognized the days of clear cutting old growth to fund schools is over,” said Josh Laughlin of Cascadia Wildlands. “There is no public appetite for it.”

Bob Ragon of Douglas Timber Operators said his organization suggested keeping the forest state owned and a Common School Fund asset, but managed by some outside entity to provide money for schools and meet environmental laws.

If none of the alternatives works, the forest would ultimately have to be sold, he said.

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