August 24, 2012
The Register-Guard by Karen McCowan
Eugene-based Cascadia Wildlands and two other conservation groups are opposing a bid by the Association of Oregon Counties to intervene in their suit that seeks to halt logging on state-owned forests that provide nesting habitat for threatened marbled murrelets.
The county organization filed a motion last month to join with other defendants in the environmental groups’ suit, which targeted Gov. John Kitzhaber and the state Board of Forestry.
Cascadia, the Audubon Society of Portland and the Oregon branch of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity filed the lawsuit this spring.
It alleges that accelerated state-approved logging in the Tillamook, Clatsop and Elliott state forests is eliminating stands of old trees that are known to be murrelet nesting habitat, thus illegally “taking” the seabird in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.
Forest industry interests — including Eugene-based Seneca Sawmill Co. — already have joined the case as defendant intervenors to help the state defend its logging policies. In an unprecedented move, the county group seeks to join them in defending the state’s logging plans for its Coast Range forests.
The nonprofit county association is funded by county governments across the state and works to represent their interests.
The association has “a significant interest in defending against this challenge to the timber management policies and timber harvest” on the three state forests on behalf of its 15 member counties who have (state) Forest Trust Lands within their boundaries,” Portland attorney Julie Weis wrote in the group’s motion to intervene. The association is also motivated by the interests of all Oregon counties, which benefit from revenues flowing from logging on state lands, she wrote.
Attached to the petition is a sworn statement from Tim Josi, a fourth-term Tillamook County Commissioner and chairman of the Association of Oregon Counties’ Council of Forest Trust Land Counties and of the state’s Forest Trust Land Advisory Committee. Lane, Douglas, Coos, Benton and Linn counties are among beneficiaries of revenues from logging on the trust lands.
“This is no small matter to the counties that depend on these revenues to care for the health and welfare needs of their citizens,” Josi wrote. Logging revenues flow both to county governments and to school districts, he wrote.
Since 1936, he wrote, the Oregon Board of Forestry has managed 654,000 acres of forestland acquired from the counties with assurances that the property would be used to produce “future forest crops to generate revenues” for those counties.
“The counties were assured that their vested rights in revenue generation via a share of timber sale receipts would be preserved,” Josi said, adding that solvency of the funds requires increased harvest levels.
“It appears that (the Cascadia lawsuit) would have annual timber harvest levels decline to the detriment of … counties and county residents,” he wrote.
Among examples he cited: The Elliott State Forest, in Coos and Douglas counties, generated $8.1 million for the common school fund in 2011, and the Eugene School District received about $1.6 million in forest revenue the same year.
In a recent motion filed by Cascadia attorney Daniel Kruse, the conservation groups asked U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken to deny the county organization’s motion to intervene.
The counties’ interests are “more than adequately represented by the existing parties,” Kruse wrote, saying the association’s involvement would unnecessarily delay and complicate the proceedings.
The state already is required by law to manage its forests according to its fiduciary duty to the counties, he said. The counties also share the timber company intervenors “direct financial interest in the challenged logging practices and the ultimate desire to see logging continue and increase on state forests.”
Kruse said the public-interest, non-profit plaintiffs already must “respond twice to every pleading, motion, discovery request, and response brief — one for the defendants and another for existing intervenors. Adding an additional party will almost certainly prolong the discovery process in this case and protract what could already be a lengthy trial.”
He argued that it would be more appropriate for the association to file friend-of-the-court briefs “to touch upon any issues not addressed by the existing parties or that will aid the Court in resolving this matter.”
Gil Riddell, the association’s policy coordinator, said that’s typically how the group has involved itself in litigation.
“But this situation is different in that it relates to state forests once owned by counties, so we have a stake that’s a little unusual in this case,” he said.
He noted that the association has twice sued the state for breaching its agreement with the counties regarding state forest management.
“We have been from time to time been at odds with the state in terms of these lands, so we want to protect our own interests,” he said.