There can be no confusion—Western states are in the business of selling public lands to make ends meet
Last week, the Oregon State Land Board voted to sell 82,000 acres of one of the most celebrated public lands in Oregon—the Elliott State Forest. The sale was on and then off and then on again in an ongoing saga, but now its fate seems relatively sealed: The Elliott is the poster child for what could happen to America’s public lands in the hands of individual states.
For Sale: One Public Lands Legacy
The Elliott is considered one of the best recreation areas on the Oregon coast, as it borders Loon Lake and is very close to the BLM’s Dean Creek Elk Management Area and Golden and Silver Falls State Natural Area, providing unmatched experiences for local hunters, anglers, and wildlife enthusiasts. The lush forest and steep hillsides are layered with tall fir and cedar trees that provide phenomenal habitat for Roosevelt elk. Wild trout, steelhead, and salmon can all be found running the cool waters within the forest as well.
In support of the Common School Fund—established in 1859 to benefit Oregon’s public education system—state trust lands like the Elliott are used to generate revenue, mostly through sustainable timber harvest. However, recent restrictions and lawsuits have limited logging, and ownership of the forest has actually been a financial drain on the state, rather than a source of income. The state started talking about selling back in June of 2014.
A Lose-Lose for Our Kids
As a mother, I can speak for the Oregonians caught in the middle—we want to raise our kids camping, hiking, hunting, and fishing in the outdoors, but we also care deeply about our state’s school system and whether it’s properly funded. I would very much like to find a solution for public education, but not at the risk of robbing our kids of valuable time spent on public lands.
For Dean Finnerty, a longtime hunter and outfitter—and a father—what’s happening with the Elliott is personal, too. Last year, I explored some of his favorite parts of the forest with him. As we drove down gravel roads, twisting and turning through stands of trees, he explained the situation from a hunter’s perspective. “The forests surrounding the Elliott are mostly privately owned and during archery season each and every year, all of the private lands are totally closed off to public access. For a sportsmen like myself, the only game in town is the Elliott!”
Dean and I came to a road blocked by a gate with a ‘No trespassing’ sign nailed to a tree. “The land behind the gate is one of several parcels sold by the state early on,” Dean explained. “It used to be a part of the Elliott State Forest, but is now owned by a private timber company. My boys and I used to hunt fall and spring black bear and pursue elk during archery season on that land. Not anymore.”
Don’t Hand Over Our Land
With the sale of the Elliott now official, many other sportsmen will have similar stories to tell. At this point, there is no clear action to prevent the sale. The best thing we can do—both as parents and as Americans who care deeply about the future of our hunting and fishing traditions—is to stay engaged to prevent the mismanagement and sale of other public lands.
A good first step will be keeping our lawmakers from handing more of our national public lands over to the states. After all, Western states have proven over time that they are in the business of selling land to make ends meet. Oregon alone has already sold all but 776,000 acres of the 3.4 million acres it was granted upon statehood. Learn more and sign the petition supporting public lands at sportsmensaccess.org.
It’s up to us to make sure this example ends with the Elliott.