A Forest for All Seasons

Perspectives: The Elliott State Forest could serve as a model for research.

By Anthony S. Davis, Interim Dean, OSU College of Forestry

Few places capture the richness and competing interests in Oregon’s forestlands like the Elliott State Forest. As Oregon State University and the College of Forestry engage on a yearlong study of the Elliott’s potential to serve as a research forest, we are mindful of the opportunity for sustainable management techniques to deliver multiple values critical to Oregonians, forest landscapes and ecosystems.

Our forests are a treasure, home to countless species, large and small, ancient and evolving, some well-known and others yet to be discovered. They provide economic value and sustain the livelihoods of individuals and communities. At the same time, if we do things well, they preserve the habitat needed for conservation of threatened and endangered species, act as a terrestrial sink for carbon, help maintain a balance of clean air and water and drive us toward an endless selection of recreation opportunities.

The 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest was established as Oregon’s first state forest in 1930. Located in Coos and Douglas counties, it has been managed by the Department of State Lands with a constitutional mandate to contribute revenue to the Common School Fund for Oregon’s public schools. For myriad reasons, revenue has declined in recent years, and the state has started to look for solutions to decouple the forest from the fund. With a commitment to maintaining public ownership of the forest, OSU and the College of Forestry — recognized as a leader in the conservation and management of our forest ecosystems — were asked: Could there be a fit?

Our response was to seek alignment between a forest of this stature and our teaching, research and extension missions. If alignment exists, the Elliott State Research Forest would be created. It would become a source of vital knowledge to inform the conservation and management of these iconic places as we face a changing climate.

We’ve convened an exploratory committee, as well as a suite of work groups, to address the scope of potential research questions. We’re also looking at the mechanics of how such a forest could be operated in a way that meets access, habitat, harvest, cultural and other values and expectations. The results will be presented to the State Land Board in December.

Should a research forest come to fruition, we would see a working forest landscape that will reflect contemporary societal goals. We would seek to address emerging threats to forest health and conservation of critical ecosystems for at-risk species. Management of the forest will also look at ways to overcome the continued difficulties we face in strengthening Oregon’s rural economies.

Cognizant of ever-changing environmental, societal and ecological conditions, the forest would allow for research at a spatial and temporal scale rarely seen in the world. At its heart, it would provide science-based management guidance to address the most significant challenges to forest ecosystems now and into the future, highlighting our responsibility to maintain healthy working forest landscapes.

This was an opinion piece written for the Perspectives department in Terra. For more information about the Elliott State Forest process, visit