It’s long past time that conservationists and timber interests start sitting down at the table together and compromising on solutions for how our government-owned timberlands should be managed.

So we were encouraged to hear that’s the kind of work that’s been done behind the scenes of the sole bid to purchase the Elliott State Forest from the state.

The difficulty with Elliott mirrors the difficulty with federal timberlands that take up large swaths of Douglas County.

On the one hand, we have a historic, legal obligation to raise money on state and federally owned lands through harvesting the trees that grow naturally in our rich Western Oregon soil to pay for vital services like schools and sheriff’s patrols. On the other, we have a concern for a clean environment — one that preserves iconic species in danger of extinction like coho salmon, marbled murrelets and spotted owls.

In Elliott’s case, the forest land was originally set aside explicitly for the purpose not of protecting owls but of raising funds for the State Common School Fund. With environmentalists pushing against harvests, the State Land Board was backed into a corner and decided its only way to meet its obligation was to sell the land.

That could have created a bleak future for the forest, from an environmental standpoint. So the state set conditions on the sale, in hopes of reducing the environmental harm.

Just one group took up the challenge.

Lone Rock Timber Management Company has offered $220.8 million for the Elliott.

It seems to us that Lone Rock has come up with a proposal that ensures the land not only produces the harvests the schools need, but also preserves old growth, waterways, Native American cultural assets and hunting, fishing and other recreational areas.

Lone Rock’s proposal was put forward in partnership with the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians and the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians — tribes that have been there longer than the forest itself, according to Tim Vredenburg, director of forest management for Cow Creek. Vredenburg said much of the land there was covered by head-high grass 150 years ago. The tribes will hold a conservation easement to ensure that the values of the land beyond its timber production are protected into the future.

Vredenburg said the tribes were concerned that if a local company like Roseburg-based Lone Rock didn’t make the purchase, a large national, or even international company based out of state would buy it. Such a company would likely make its decisions without regard for local concerns about how the land is managed.

Lone Rock’s proposal was created in consultation with the environmental group The Conservation Fund, which is based in Virginia but has an office in Portland.

Twenty-five percent of the land will be protected old-growth forest. The land to be set aside for conservation was chosen based on the habitat where the most sensitive species were living. And large riparian buffers would keep the waters in the Elliott cold and clear.

We understand that not everyone will be happy with what Lone Rock has proposed for the Elliott, but we remain cautiously optimistic that the compromise plan Lone Rock has proposed will work, and that it will serve as a model for future efforts on government-owned timberlands.

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