Overview of the issue
The Elliott State Forest near Coos Bay, Ore., is considered one of the best public recreation areas on the state coastline. However, the Elliott State Forest Sale nearly took this all away. This public lands gem consists of more than 82,000 acres that provide unmatched experiences for local hunters, anglers, and wildlife enthusiasts. It also borders Loon Lake and is very close to the Bureau of Land Management’s Dean Creek Elk Management Area and Golden and Silver Falls State Natural Area.
However, the Elliott has become the poster child for what could happen if America’s public lands wind up in the hands of individual states. Put simply, states are in the business of selling their trust lands, like the Elliott, to generate revenue. In Oregon, where sustainable timber harvest on state trust lands is intended to support public education funding, recent restrictions and lawsuits have limited logging, and ownership of the forest has become a financial drain on the state—rather than a source of income. After more than a year of negotiations, it looked certain that the forest would be sold to private interests, but recent developments have sportsmen and women hopeful.
Recently, sportsmen and women took action and asked the Oregon State Land Board to stop the 84,000-acre Elliott State Forest sale so that hunting, fishing, and other priceless outdoor recreation opportunities can continue. The Land Board came through for Oregon families and countless visitors by voting unanimously to keep the Elliott in public hands.
In July 2017, Oregon legislators passed measures that will finally keep the Elliott State Forest in public hands and off the auction block. This ends a long drawn-out battle that highlights the major differences between America’s public lands and state-managed lands in the West.
After more than a year of negotiations, it looked certain that the forest would be sold to private interests, but the state land board and legislators were able to keep the Elliott public.
Why does TRCP care?
The sale of the Elliott State Forest could have cut off access for local anglers and hunters, while jeopardizing elk populations and salmon and steelhead runs. This would also pose a threat to Oregon’s outdoor recreation businesses.
Currently, the lush forest and steep hillsides are layered with tall fir and cedar trees that provide phenomenal habitat for Roosevelt elk. The Elliott is also a stronghold for wild trout, steelhead, and salmon, which can all be found in the cool waters within the forest. It’s a sportsman’s paradise. It’s also some of the last publicly accessible state land in Coos County.
While it’s no longer the poster child for sale or disposal of public lands by a cash-strapped state, the Elliott’s saga is still a cautionary tale. America’s public lands are a critical part of our national identity and are managed under a multiple-use mandate to prioritize recreation, habitat, grazing, and development—a much different approach than management of state lands in the West.