Extinguishing the Elliott for education

The sale of the Elliott is only made necessary by our state's refusal to look for alternative sources of revenue for education budget

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The Elliott State Forest is being sold to help pay for Oregon’s rising education deficit. The sale of the Elliott is a short-term solution to a problem that could be solved without the loss of one of our state’s natural treasures.

There have been plenty of opportunities to fix the problem of the rising deficit in the last couple years. Most recently was the vote on Measure 97. The measure was a corporate tax initiative that supposedly would have supplied upwards of $3 billion in annual revenue to healthcare, and more importantly, Oregon’s schools.

The Oregon Land Board voted last Tuesday to continue with the sale of the Elliott State Forest to a Roseburg timber company with a 2-1 vote, according to KGW Portland. Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read and Secretary of State Dennis Richardson both voted for the sale, while Governor Kate Brown voted against it. Brown and Richardson’s votes were expected, and newly elected Read cast the pivotal ballot to take a major step in the privatization of the forest.

The Elliott is an 80,000 acre swath of forest in Coos County that has provided $400 million, from timber sales, to Oregon public education since its creation in the 1930s. It provides habitat for the endangered spotted owl and the marbled murrelet. It also is a public land that provides hunters, fishers and other outdoor enthusiasts some of the last truly wild terrain in Oregon.

In recent years, with the regulations on logging increasing, the revenues earned by the forest began to fall, which prompted the initial bid to sell in 2015. This short-term solution to a rising deficit in the state’s education budget is convenient for politicians, but won’t serve Oregonians.

Oregon’s schools are in dire need of funding, but the environment should not be made to pay. Measure 97 is just one example of legislation that would have effectively made the sale of the Elliott unnecessary.

It would have placed a 2.5% tax on all corporate sales over $25 million, which would have increased opportunity for small businesses while creating revenue for vital government services. Sadly it was painted as a hidden sales tax for consumers, apparently an effective campaign as the initiative lost by almost twenty points last fall.

The defeat of this measure left Oregon in a tough spot. With our education deficit rising along with our high school dropout rates, finalizing the sale of the Elliott must have appeared to be the easiest solution to State Treasurer Tobias Read and Secretary of State Dennis Richardson.

This is just one example of the externalization of costs that often impacts the environment. Instead of reevaluating our state’s management of the forest, and finding solutions to its recent decline in profits, we are throwing away millions of dollars in potential revenue and tens of thousands of acres of pristine habitat. Because Oregon voters weren’t willing to make corporations foot the bill for our children’s educations, we are forcing our environment to do it instead.

While the loss of the Elliott State Forest may just seem to be another drop in the bucket, in reality it is a hugely important piece of woodland and contains some of the last remaining first generation old-growth forest in the world. Although the profits from its management have dropped in the last years, it offers so much more to our state than just lumber. There is no price that we can put on habitat for endangered species, or the carbon sequestering capacity of old-growth forest. You can’t put a price on showing a child the wonder of one of the planet’s last ancient forests.

The sale of a renewable resource such as the Elliott for a one-off sum of money is irresponsible. The subsidization of our society at the expense of our last untainted wildlands must end. In a conversation with fire ecologist and sociology professor Tim Ingalsbee, he discussed how the clear-cutting of our forests under the guise of paying for our children’s future is flawed logic.

Those same forests are going to be necessary to provide our children with a future. According to 2011 analysis, the Elliott is projected to store about 46 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2050. Carbon sinks like the Elliott are going to be an essential part in assuring climate stability for future generations.

The sale of this resource cannot go through. There must be some form of monetary accountability for corporations in our state. We are not only selling an indispensable resource, but a piece of history and an integral part to maintaining some semblance of balance within local Oregon ecosystems. If we allow the Land Board to sell the Elliott now, how can we know they won’t sell more of our state forests the next time they need some quick cash.