A proposal to transfer ownership of the Elliott State Forest from the state to Oregon State University is taking a small step forward.

The Oregon Department of State Lands says it is prepared to sign a framework agreement — called a memorandum of understanding — with the University Tuesday that will allow the two to develop a solid plan to create the Elliott State Research Forest. 

“This memo captures the Board’s overall direction to date regarding the Elliott,” DSL Interim Director Vicki Walker told the State Land Board at a meeting Tuesday morning.

Opponents of a plan to sell the Elliott State Forest hold signs outside an Oregon State Land Board meeting.

Opponents of a plan to sell the Elliott State Forest hold signs outside an Oregon State Land Board meeting.

Cassandra Profita, OPB/EarthFix

Those include retaining public access and hunting, creating a conservation plan to protect imperiled species that live there, and maintaining a “working forest” that will allow for continued timber harvest.

“It’s a good vision.  We like it.  And we’re sticking to it,” Walker said. 

Another goal is to “decouple” the Elliott State Forest from the Common School Fund.  This would take the pressure off the forest to continue to generate logging revenue for Oregon schools.  This was the original intent of the land, which was stymied when endangered species concerns limited the timber harvest over the past decade.

In 2017 the Oregon Legislature approved $100 million to aid this process.  Still, an additional $120.8 million is needed in order to pay off the appraised value of the land.

Walker says the new agreement does not commit OSU to purchasing the land.  She said the university has indicated it is not “capable of or interested in” taking on $120 million in debt to purchase the forest.  

“We’re continuing to have discussion about what options are there,” said State Treasurer and Land Board member Tobias Read of the university’s willingness to take on some portion of the sale price. “I suspect that there’s some capacity for timber-backed revenue bonds. (At what) level, I don’t think is clear yet.”   

The new agreement aims to have a formal transfer plan worked out by the end of the year.