The potential privatization of the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest located just east of Coos Bay will be remembered as one of the greatest public lands mistakes ever made by the state of Oregon. With privatization proposals of this remarkable forest looming, the Elliott must be saved by Governor Kate Brown and kept in public ownership for its incredible values.

Treasured for its salmon and wildlife habitat, clean water and recreation opportunities, the Elliott’s contiguous rainforests stand out in an otherwise heavily cut-over Oregon Coast Range. Privatizing the Elliott jeopardizes these values and will lock Oregonians out of a favorite Coast Range playground.

Public outrage stemming from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation and the recent acquittal of the Bundy brothers, and their ilk has shown that Oregonians highly regard their public lands. With the Elliott, Governor Brown, Treasurer Ted Wheeler and Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins — our State Land Board  — have a tremendous leadership opportunity to firmly state that public lands belong in public hands and that our government will do whatever it takes to serve the people of Oregon.

The state of Oregon’s rampant old-growth clearcutting program finally caught up with them in 2012, when a federal court ruled it was violating the Endangered Species Act. Forced to scale back its unsustainable logging program, the state ultimately decided that selling the Elliott was the best way to deal with the challenge and approved a disposal process that could conclude this December.

The State Land Board still has time to avoid this tragedy by discarding the ongoing liquidation process to ensure that the Elliott is retained in public ownership. The stakes are too high not to. The Elliott provides critically important clean water for recovering salmon runs in western Oregon. It houses the most productive forests in the world at storing carbon, thereby blunting the impacts of climate change. The Elliott offers a world-class backcountry experience, where hunters do not have to pay inflated fees to hunt, unlike what is happening on nearby private lands. The forest’s dense, second-growth tree plantations offer local communities restoration-based thinning opportunities.

Governor Brown and the rest of the State Land Board must show leadership and take the time required to find a solution for the Elliott that works for Oregonians and keeps this outstanding forest in public ownership. Otherwise, generations of Oregonians to come will be left wondering how Oregon’s leaders squandered away the gem of the Oregon Coast Range.

Robin Meacher is a native of the West Coast. She spent her childhood surrounded by public forests in the rural west and is the Wildlands Campaign Director for Cascadia Wildlands in Eugene, Oregon.