Elliott State Research Forest History

The Elliott State Research Forest (ESRF), located in the Coast Range just north and east of Coos Bay, is located on the traditional lands of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Tribes, who were the original stewards of the land prior to Euro-American settlement and the forcible removal of the Tribes to reservations. In 1930, the 83,000-acre Elliott State Forest was established as Oregon’s first state forest. Starting in 1955 and for the next several decades, the Elliott State Forest helped fund Oregon public schools through the harvest and sale of timber and replanting of even-aged stands focused on continued timber production.

In more recent years, the Elliott State Forest had been at the center of growing tension between the forest’s historical role of helping fund public schools and the forest’s potential to provide benefits beyond harvest revenue, including habitat for native species, carbon sequestration, clean water and recreation, and Tribal cultural uses including hunting, fishing and gathering traditional foods and medicines.

In response, the State Land Board requested that Oregon State University (OSU), in collaboration with the Oregon Department of State Lands, explore the potential transformation of the Elliott State Forest into a publicly owned research forest managed by the OSU College of Forestry.

The Need for a World-Class Research Forest

As our global population surpasses eight billion people, the world is facing growing climate and sustainability crises. Forestry has a responsibility and the potential to contribute to a more sustainable future. The prospect of an ESRF presents a rare opportunity to establish a long-term research forest that will contribute to and support conservation, recreation, education, Tribal cultural values, local economies and more.

The ESRF can serve as a living laboratory for vital research on landscape-scale approaches to sustainable forest management, climate resilience, biodiversity and ecosystem functions, and eco-cultural social benefits over the long-term. The research forest can also provide Oregonians with access to forest education and recreation, as well as jobs in forest products, forestry and forest research.

A Collaborative Planning Process

The OSU College of Forestry’s proposal for the ESRF is a collaboratively developed research framework.

From 2019-2022, planning work for the ESRF was guided by the State Land Board and a 15-member advisory committee established by the state representing diverse perspectives on conservation, timber, schools, recreation, local governments and more. Their input and insight, along with extensive engagement of Tribal Nations, community stakeholders and the public, has helped resolve many challenging issues. The research proposal was formally approved by the Oregon Department of State Lands, the advisory committee and the State Land Board in April 2021.

The collaborative work of the advisory committee, the Department of State Lands and OSU was reflected in the April 2022 passing of Senate Bill 1546, which established the ESRF and a public agency to administer the forest, the Elliott State Research Forest Authority (ESRFA). The creation of this new agency helps ensure that Oregon’s new world-class research forest will be governed with the accountability and transparency Oregonians expect.

Following the guidelines of Senate Bill 1546, the initial advisory committee was relieved of its duty in Dec. 2022, and a prospective nine-member ESRFA Board of Directors was established by the State Land Board. This prospective board will serve in an advisory capacity on continued planning for the forest until their official appointments begin Jan. 1, 2024.

Two important planning documents are currently in development for the ESRF:

  • Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP): After several years of consultation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, OSU and others, the Department of State Lands submitted an ESRF Administrative Draft HCP to federal agencies for review on October 8, 2021. The HCP reflects the management that will occur under the OSU Research Proposal. A public draft of the HCP was released in November 2022 for comment. The Department of State Lands is continuing to update the draft HCP in response to public comments received by early January 2023 and input from the Services (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service) and ESRFA Prospective Board.
  • Forest Management Plan (FMP): The December 2023 ESRF Forest Management Plan (FMP) is now available, including the ESRF Watershed Atlas, a supplemental document that provides maps of the ESRF at the subwatershed scale. Public comments on the 2023 Draft FMP received during the public comment period earlier this fall, along with responses to these comments from OSU staff, are also available.

Forest Management for a Changing World

Our vision is to establish a publicly owned, long-term research forest aimed at exploring and finding innovative solutions to meet human demands for wood products, promote climate change adaptation and carbon sequestration, support a diversity of life and ecosystem processes, invest in local economies and promote inclusive sustainability. Of particular importance is research that will inform how forests can help achieve broad-scale conservation goals and alleviate climate change impacts while producing traditional and alternative forest products for a growing global population.

OSU believes forests should be managed to support human needs, foster economic opportunity, and not only sustain but advance forest resiliency and conservation. To accomplish these objectives, it is necessary that sustainable forestry practices be developed through careful scientific inquiry and through the wedding of different ways of knowing including Indigenous Knowledge. Tribes are Sovereign Nations, not stakeholders, and OSU and the College of Forestry are working to develop co-stewardship plans for the ESRF that honor Sovereignty Rights. Read more about this approach in the College of Forestry’s “Principles and Best Practices for working with Indigenous Knowledge and Partnering with Tribal Nations and Indigenous Peoples,” Volume 1 (PDF).

The December 2023 ESRF Forest Management Plan and ESRF Watershed Atlas supplemental document are now available.