The State Land Board has one mission. Made up of the governor, the secretary of state and state treasurer, the board is charged with managing the state’s lands to benefit the people of Oregon. The board was created after the federal government, in 1859, gave the state some 3.4 million acres “for the use of schools.”

The Elliott State Forest in southwest Oregon contains about 91,000 acres of that land. It’s supposed to be contributing income to the state’s Common School Fund, but, in fact, the forest is actually costing the state money. It does so because logging on it has ground to a halt.

The land board has been trying to unload the land since 2013. In 2016 it began to sell the land to a timber company and tribe, but the deal fell through. Now it’s trying to sell the land to Oregon State University to be used as a research forest. OSU likes the idea, but there’s a major, multimillion-dollar sticking point.

There’s a remaining $120.8 million that must be paid off to the Common School Fund. And the deal also carries enough restrictions to make any buyer wary.

OSU is, if not exactly wary, cautious. As an article in the Corvallis Gazette-Times pointed out recently, the land is far from the OSU campus. The forest would have to remain open to the public and OSU would have to come up with a conservation plan that both protects sensitive species and allows for timber harvest. Worst, there is no clear plan for paying the remaining money owed for the property, at least not yet.

It may be that OSU ultimately decides it cannot afford the forest in light of the restrictions it would face in using it. If it were to try to bump up harvest significantly, it would surely face pushback from conservation groups — perhaps even the same ones who helped block timber sales on the land, which made the state lose money on the forest for schools in the first place.

A new way to lose money is not any better than the old way of losing money.

23279281