Elliott Forest Secrets

This image comes from my page as an Emeritus Professor at Oregon State University (available at: https://business.oregonstate.edu/users/dave-sullivan)

I worked as a professor at OSU for over 25 years, but as you can see, I was younger back then.

The Elliott State Forest is a magical and mysterious place with 91,000 acres of prime timberland in southwestern Oregon near Reedsport and Coos Bay. I love the Elliott Forest, but I'm unhappy about all the secrecy surrounding it today. This Elliott Forest Secrets website will work to expose and publish important secrets about the Elliott State Forest. 

When I talk about important secrets, I'm not talking about personal secrets or gossip. I'm not trying to expose individual indiscretions. Instead, I'm talking about important facts that are hidden, misunderstood or undiscovered. 

Two broad categories of secrets: human and natural

This Elliott Forest Secrets website deals with two broad categories of secrets: human and natural

Human secrets have the potential to be easily revealed because they have relatively simple factual answers, such as the secrets described on the DSL, OSU, and Financial pages of this website. Many human secrets come from deliberate attempts to avoid oversight, retain power and force a desired political outcome; others come from administrative lethargy. Oregon's public employees tend to forgot their legal and moral responsibility to share information and make decisions in public, and that explains why Oregon has adopted strong freedom of information laws: a healthy democracy cannot function without informed citizens. 

Natural secrets, such as fire secrets and HCP secrets, are deeper and less easily revealed because they are hidden by nature. For example, humans have caused huge changes to the environment, and many species are having trouble adapting, but relationships in nature aren't obvious and some well-meaning "solutions" have backfired badly, while others have been expensive and ineffectual.

Fighting hypocrisy and duplicity

I want to dedicate this Elliott Forest Secrets website to my father, J. Wesley Sullivan, who served on the State Board of Forestry and was the editor of the Statesman-Journal newspaper in Salem, Oregon. Wes Sullivan died in 2008, but he taught me the first step in forming an informed opinion is to collect facts. Journalism 101 teaches to find out the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. Only after you have the facts does it make sense to begin the process of deciding what to do. He also taught me how hard it can be to get public employees to follow Oregon's Public Records and Meetings Law.

I spent my entire professional career collecting and organizing information to help people make better decisions: I started as a manufacturing accountant, became a corporate finance manager, went back to school to get a doctorate in information systems, and then spent 25 years researching and teaching about information systems at OSU. So in May 2020 as I began to learn about plans to give OSU control of the Elliott State Forest, my first step was to look for factual information, but I quickly began running into dead ends and roadblocks:

In contrast, both the Department of State Lands and the OSU College of Forestry had web pages about the Elliott State Forest that explained how inclusive they wanted the planning process to be. For example, the Department of State Lands Elliott page said:

Public engagement opportunities are planned for later in 2020. To date, public informational meetings have been held in Coos Bay, Portland, Salem, and Roseburg. 

Similarly, the College of Forestry Elliott page said:

Broad involvement and transparency will be vital throughout this process ...

So in theory, the public was being encouraged to participate, but in practice, I found the vast majority of basic information needed to make informed decisions was being hidden from view. I call this process "public engagement theater." Each Department of State Lands "public engagement opportunity" follows a theatrical script: First, a series of experts explains what has already been decided and done, then each member of the public is allowed five minutes of polite attention in front of panelists who pretend to listen. If an interested outsider wants to be really involved or find out how decisions are really being made, no one has any time to spare. 

Similarly, OSU's College of Forestry has held most research planning and review outside public view. For example, until summer 2020 when I began publicly shaming the College of Forestry, all meetings of the Science Advisory Panel were secret, and all materials that Panel received, discussed or produced were secret.

For the critical period of time while the College of Forestry spent $660,000 of Department of State Lands funds to create an Elliott State Research Forest Proposal, no one from the public could  attend or provide any ideas during the College of Forestry's secret meetings. Now that a highly polished Research Forest Proposal has been publicly released, the College of Forestry has begun allowing limited outside observation of its Science Advisory Panel's activity.  This "mostly secret" approach to public involvement is actually an improvement: prior meetings were completely secret. I am reminded of Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and how the entry for Earth was revised from "Harmless" to "Mostly harmless."

Types of Elliott Forest Secrets

I've identified various  types of Elliott Forest Secret, and I've built a separate page for each type. Here's a Cliff Notes version along with links leading to more details:

Concluding ideas

I began building this Elliott Forest Secrets website on May 16, 2020, and it remains incomplete. I built this website myself, and I am solely responsible for its content. 

I don't like making public complaints without letting people explain and defend themselves ... so I'm willing to listen carefully and change things as appropriate. Also, anyone who wishes can post comments or rebuttals in this site. 

Dave Sullivan, PhD
Emeritus Professor of Business, Oregon State University
Email: drdavesullivan@gmail.com
Phone: 541-791-6470

Dave Sullivan is shown here in 2019 after successfully raising an entrance arch to his timberland, a 211-acre tree farm just outside Pedee, Oregon.


My treefarm is being managed according to this management plan.

Why Did I Build This Site?

This website hopes to expose important secrets about the Elliott Forest, so it shouldn't be about me. But any attempt to expose controversial secrets will prompt attacks on my motives, so I need to explain why I built this website. If you want to know about my professional background, read the About Me page ... this panel describes my interests in a story format.

Why do I care about forestry?

My interest in forestry began as a child while hiking and camping. Then, after initially flunking out of college, I spent a year planting and thinning trees on work crews. This was HARD work, and I promised myself to become a timberland owner rather than an hourly grunt who worked on other people’s property.

That promise took almost twenty years to meet, but eventually I was able to purchase cut-over timberland by maxing out my credit cards. I planted over 25,000 trees on my land, mostly working by myself on weekends because I had a full-time job at OSU and was seriously short of cash. Each seedling cost $0.22, and it felt like buying a long-term lottery ticket as each tree went in the ground.

Once I bought my timberland, I wanted to learn everything I could about forestry. So I became an active member of the Oregon Small Woodlands Association. In the past thirty years, I've visited hundreds of tree farms, mill sites, and research forests on forestry tours. I joined the Board of Directors of the Benton County chapter so I could rub shoulders with other board members; then I joined the state-wide OSWA Board of Directors. I also read forestry textbooks, academic journals and extension publications. 

No forest should be without a formal management plan, so I hired professional foresters, and we worked together to write a plan for my tree farm. I've included a PDF copy of it nearby.

It's now thirty years later, and I live on my timberland in a home I designed and built myself. Those "lottery tickets" that I planted have become merchantable trees, and I've sold thousands of them as logs. My investment has paid off handsomely: I've harvested roughly three times more timber than the property cost me, and the timberland is worth at least ten times what it cost in 1989. Owning timberland is not a get-rich-quick scheme, but it is quite profitable.

Why do I care about fire lookout towers?

I grew up in the 1950s and 60s in a family that liked to backpack. So as a kid, I visited a lot of fire towers when they were active and got to visit with the lonely folks who watched over Oregon's forests.

Now that I have my own timberland, I have the perfect location to build an awesome fire lookout tower of my own. So I've filled out lots of paperwork and received formal land use approval to build a fire lookout tower on my timberland in Polk County.

Naturally I've been exploring how fire towers are built as I've been designing my fire lookout tower. To make a long story short, this led me to establish Sandbox Designs, a nonprofit organization whose educational mission is simple:  "To promote the open source development of timber framed towers."

Why save the Cougar Pass Lookout Tower?

Bob Zybach (PhD, Oregon State University, Environmental Sciences) has spent the last forty years researching and documenting the history of Oregon's forests. When he learned about my interest in fire lookout towers, he suggested I should visit the Cougar Pass Fire Lookout Tower in the heart of the Elliott State Forest. He explained the Cougar Pass lookout was the last remaining lookout in the Elliott State Forest and was in sad shape after decades of neglect.

Bob and I traveled to see Cougar Pass together, and we prepared a proposal for a Cougar Pass Lookout Education Center (available at www.cougarpass.org). When we presented the Cougar Pass proposal to the Department of State Lands, their formal response was: 

"Because of the potential transfer of the Elliott to Oregon State University, the Department of State Lands is unable to dedicate time and resources to a potential project at this point in time."

Later, I chatted with Howard Verschoor, the Oregon chapter director of the Forest Fire Lookout Association, who made a continuing efforts to restore the Cougar Pass lookout from 1999 to 2003. He reports, "We kept getting put off and put off, so eventually we gave up."

Deliberate mismanagement

The Department of State Lands has been deliberately letting the Cougar Pass lookout rot--and has been actively rejecting outside efforts to help--so I began to wonder: Is the entire Elliott State Forest being managed in essentially the same manner?

It didn't take long to find out the Department of State Lands says it cannot make money -- and has been losing money -- on the Elliott State Forest. This made no sense to me. How is it possible to lose money while managing over 90,000 acres of prime, well stocked and mature Douglas Fir timberland in Oregon? No one else would have trouble making money on this sort of asset. The only way I can make sense of this situation is to conclude losing money is a deliberate political strategy. If the forest loses money, then the State Lands Board can claim the forest is essentially worthless and transfer it to OSU for pennies on the dollar. 

This strategy robs money directly from our children (and it keeps rural Oregonians unemployed.) The Elliott State Forest is constitutionally mandated to be managed for the benefit of the Common School Fund for our kids. Their actions are the moral equivalent of a shopper who breaks merchandise and takes it to the checkout counter saying: "This is broken, will you sell it to me at a discount?"

Deliberate secrecy

Both the Department of State Lands and the College of Forestry have been lying about being willing to work collaboratively on research about the Elliott State Forest: meetings are being held in secret, data isn't being shared publicly, and only academic/environmental research is allowed. As an example, no one from an industrial timber firm has been allowed to join either the College of Forestry's Science Advisory Panel or the Elliott State Forest Research Panel. 

My hope about how this website will be used

I'm confident people at the Department of State Lands and the College of Forestry see things differently. I'm reminded of my favorite cartoon. It shows two contrasting drawings of a classroom. One drawing is from the back of the room: it shows well dressed and attentive students looking at a multi-headed monster at the front. The other drawing is from the front of the same classroom. It shows a man in a suit standing next to the blackboard, and all students are drunk, rowdy or sleeping. 

From the Department of State Land's or College of Forestry's side of the classroom, they have met all legal minimum requirements to post information or provide access to meetings. 

But from my side of the classroom, neither the DSL's Elliott State Research Forest Advisory Committee nor the College of Forestry's Science Advisory Panel has anyone listed to represent the Oregon Small Woodland Association, the Association of Oregon Loggers, or any industrial forestry firm, and the tools they are using to hold meetings and share information are private, so almost all planning and real discussions are being done in secret, and outsiders are only allowed to comment at "public engagement theaters" after things have effectively been set in concrete. 

Still, I remain optimistic this website will help people at the Department of State Lands and the OSU College of Forestry see how things look from the other side of the classroom. Perhaps then they will begin sharing information and consider a broader, more balanced set of management and research ideas related to the Elliott State Forest. 

  -- Dave Sullivan, 11/8/2020

P.S. as of January 2023: I stopped actively updating this website near the end of 2020. If you want to know more about my recent activities, I recommend looking at the Oregon Advocates for School Trust Lands website available at www.OASTL.org.   -- Dave

Photo Credit: The photograph at the top of this page shows Dave Sullivan and was taken by his wife, Barbara.