Opinion: An Elliott State Research Forest would serve science, forestry and opportunity – OregonLive

Thomas H. DeLuca

DeLuca is the Cheryl Ramberg-Ford Allyn C. Ford Dean of the College of Forestry at Oregon State University.

Oregon, the nation and the world face sustainability and climate crises primarily driven by society’s rampant consumption of fossil fuels. This is evident in extreme weather events, the increased likelihood of severe wildfire seasons like the West has experienced the last two years, and an accelerated loss of species worldwide.

More than ever, we need good science to guide us and begin to avert the many societal, economic and environmental challenges we face. The Elliott State Forest in southwestern Oregon is a vibrant forest of more than 80,000 acres of towering Douglas-fir, diverse and abundant wildlife and luxuriant, complex understory vegetation. As a research forest, it would provide a living laboratory that would inform how we can meet these challenges.

Over the last three years, Oregon State University has collaborated with the State Land Board, Department of State Lands and numerous advisory committees and stakeholders on an effort to transform the Elliott.

An Elliott State Research Forest offers many benefits for Oregonians as a globally unique opportunity to demonstrate that managed forests are far more than sources of timber. A research forest the size of the Elliott will allow us to study how forestry in the 21st century can meet the needs of people, including demand for wood for housing our increasing population and commercial wood product uses. An Elliott managed for research also would enable scientific study on how to enhance ecosystem biodiversity; support the natural migration of wildlife species; and expand recreational opportunities. Through the study of new and varied approaches in holistic forest management, we can bolster rural and urban economies by highlighting sustainable practices that could be applied across Pacific Northwest lands to meet future demands for wood.

Establishing the Elliott as a research forest would represent a change from its long use as a state-owned asset intended to generate funds for education. But the research forest won’t be created without first determining the value of the land and making a payment to the Common School Fund, thereby honoring the state’s obligation to help educate K-12 students in Oregon’s public schools.

Recent research forest discussions with state agency leaders and members of the Elliott State Research Forest Advisory Committee have centered on forming a new public entity where the state retains ownership of the forest and compensates the Common School Fund, but vests OSU with the responsibility to manage the research. Ownership by such a public body is not a new concept in Oregon – the Oregon Health and Science University is an example – and all involved in discussions regarding creation of an Elliott State Research Forest have long recognized that legislation would be needed to establish a public governing board.

In turn, OSU researchers and collaborators from other Oregon universities and beyond would develop new practices to meet social, economic and ecological objectives that land managers can apply on tens of millions of acres of Pacific Northwest forests. By doing so, they can improve habitat for species, deliver sustainable products, and support communities and the economy.

OSU looks forward to continued work in the months ahead with state leaders, state agencies, diverse stakeholders and Oregon legislators. The timing is right to investigate and implement this ownership structure. Sustainability and climate crises occurring in Oregon, nationally and globally compel us to act now.

The lands that comprise the Elliott State Forest have sustained people and habitat for millennia. With a vision for the future, an Elliott State Research Forest will provide public well-being while generating scientific knowledge that charts a path forward to benefit Oregonians and help serve the nation and the world.

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