By Adrian Black Eugene Weekly
August 15, 2013
Volunteer surveyors in Elliott State Forest recently discovered nesting behavior by the marbled murrelet, a sea bird protected under the Endangered Species Act, on one of three parcels of land being assessed for sale by the State Land Board.
The sale would ultimately be for logging purposes. Last year, Cascadia Wildlands and two other conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the board — including Gov. John Kitzhaber — as well as the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) and Department of Forestry, which oversee the Elliott. The result was a U.S. District Court injunction on “further logging activities in known occupied marbled murrelet sites in the … Elliott State Forest.”
A land board meeting in June deemed the parcels of the Elliott, where logging feeds Oregon’s Common School Fund, qualified for sale due to non-profitability. Nick Cady, an attorney with Cascadia Wildlands, calls that solution a “petulant, short-term money grab” that is “definitely not in the interest of the Oregon public or its school children.” Divesting assets also doesn’t address the origins of the revenue failure. “It’s time for [the state] to take responsibility for their core management practices. This privatization plan is just another way to evade reality,” says Erin Grady of Cascadia Forest Defenders. “The way they clearcut in the Elliott is still the way they did it in the ’70s.”
“We believe they’re going to try to sell the entire [85,000 acres] of the Elliott,” Cady says. “This is a test run to see if they can get away with it.” The board and DSL continue to push sales and, according to conservationists, deflect habitat concerns. The largest parcel in question, Adams Ridge — roughly 1,600 of the total 2,700 acres — is where Coast Range Forest Watch surveyors documented areas occupied by the murrelet, which nests in old-growth forests. The surveyors will submit their findings before a comment period ends Sept. 3.
Even though the court case will not be settled federally until next year, the 2,700 acres would go to auction, pending a State Land Board meeting on Dec. 10 to review public comments. “Supposedly green politicians that Oregon has elected will decide to privatize this land unless we can stop it,” Grady says.
November 27, 2013
ELLIOTT STATE FOREST — The state has withdrawn more than 900 acres of planned Elliott State Forest timber sales, pending the outcome of an environmental lawsuit.
The Oregon Department of Forestry instead plans to open 465 acres of alternative logging sites not named in the lawsuit.
'It's certainly nowhere near what was proposed in the annual operating plan," said Kevin Weeks, a spokesman for the Forestry Department. As Elliott logging funds the Common School Fund, Weeks estimates the shift will cost the CSF $9.85 million in revenue in 2013.
The state had already suspended logging on about 800 acres of timberland slated to be clearcut in 2012, said Josh Laughlin, a spokesman for Cascadia Wildlands.
The environmental groups say deferred logging means another year of protection for the endangered marbled murrelet sea bird.
The lawsuit, filed in May by Cascadia Wildlands and several other environmental groups, alleges the state's logging practices violate the Endangered Species Act by killing the sea birds.
'All the current scientific information suggests the sea birds' population is continuing to plummet in this region," Laughlin said. 'Clear cutting of its nesting habitat is a factor. To us, that suggests that public agencies like the Department of Forestry should take stronger measures to ensure their survival."
The suit will be heard by a federal judge sometime next year, Laughlin said.
If the judge decides in favor of the environmental groups, the state would have to drastically adjust its forest management plan.
Cascadia Wildlands hopes the state will pursue a habitat conservation plan, which manages the forest as a whole, allowing logging in certain regions and preserving other regions as habitat for endangered species.
Such a plan must be approved by federal agencies, as it allows the state to log areas where endangered species live. The state managed the Elliott with a habitat conservation plan for years, but scrapped it in 2011 because the National Marine Fisheries Service would not approve the plan, saying it did not adequately protect Coho salmon.
Under the current forest management plan, all areas of the state forest are open to logging so long as no endangered species live in the immediate vicinity. Areas where murlets nest are protected from logging. The method is called 'take avoidance."
Cascadia Wildlands disapproves of this method because it fails to conserve uninterrupted habitat, instead creating a patchwork of logged and unlogged areas.
Reporter Jessie Higgins can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 240, or email@example.com.