Posts Tagged ‘Oregon Department of Forestry’

Apr21

Elliott State Forest parcel to be sold to Seneca Jones, drawing environmental lawsuit

By Rob Davis, Oregonian DSCN2264
April 21, 2014
 
The Oregon Department of State Lands has struck a deal to sell a 788-acre parcel of the Elliott State Forest near Coos Bay to the Seneca Jones Timber Co. for $1.8 million.
 
The timber company’s owner, Kathy Jones, had said the company pursued the land, which it intends to clear cut parts of, to provoke a fight with environmental groups.
 
It certainly worked: Three environmental groups filed suit Monday to block the purchase and simultaneously sought a temporary injunction to prevent the sale of part of the 93,000-acre state forest.
 
Two other parcels in the Elliott are also being sold to a timber company, a development announced Monday by the Department of State Lands. The Scott Timber Co. was the winning bidder on two other parcels in the state forest being sold, the agency said, with a $787,000 bid on 355 acres called Benson Ridge and a $1.8 million bid on a 310-acre slice of Adams Ridge.
 
The groups — Cascadia Wildlands, Audubon Society of Portland and the Center for Biological Diversity — said in legal filings that the sale was expressly prohibited by law and that the land shouldn't be logged in order to protect the marbled murrelet, a threatened seabird that nests in coastal forests.
 
“The state has illegally clearcut the Elliott for decades, and now that it has been forced to stop, it is engaging in an illegal selloff,” said Bob Sallinger, Audubon's conservation director. “It is time for the state to look for real solutions that protect the Elliott and address the needs of the Common School Fund.”
 
Like the spotted owl before it, the murrelet has become a cornerstone species for environmental groups seeking to curtail logging in Oregon. The bird’s population in Washington, Oregon and California has steadily declined over the last decade.
 
The State Land Board oversees some 700,000 acres statewide and has a constitutional responsibility to maximize revenue from the land to fund K-12 education. But because logging was halted in the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest by environmental lawsuits, land management there will cost the state about $3 million this year.
 
The land sale would fill that gap for just a year, raising questions about the state forest’s future. State officials have said they consider the sale as a test case to determine the forest’s value for larger sales or land swaps.
 
The sale has had hiccups.
 
Parcels saw their value drop after state and volunteer biologists discovered murrelets nesting there during summer surveys. Timber once worth an estimated $22.1 million dropped to $3.6 million, according to state appraisals. Stands occupied by the small seabird can't be logged and aren’t worth as much.
 
While worth less on paper, a state contractor’s appraisal theorized the reduced value may allow small timber companies to buy the land cheap and log it anyway, skirting laws to reap the original, higher value.
 
We'll update this story as we learn more.
 
 

Feb06

State Stops Timber Sales to Help Bird

The Associated Press by Jeff Barnard
February 6, 2013
 
The state Department of Forestry has agreed to cancel more than two dozen timber sales on state forests because they threaten the survival of the marbled murrelet, a seabird that nests in large, old trees.
 
The proposed settlement filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Eugene comes in a lawsuit brought by three conservation groups, Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Audubon Society of Portland.
 
It alleged that the department violated the Endangered Species Act prohibiting the harming, or take, of a protected species by failing to protect stands of trees on the Elliott and other state forests where threatened marbled murrelets build their nests.
 
The murrelet is a robin-size bird that lives on the ocean and flies as far as 50 miles inland to nest in old growth forests. The bird was declared a threatened species about two decades ago, making it a factor in the continuing court and political battles over logging in the Northwest.
 
The settlement comes as the state has been trying to increase logging on state forests to provide more funding for schools and counties and more logs for local mills.
 
The Elliott State Forest, where the bulk of the canceled sales are located, typically provides millions of dollars to the Common School Fund. But in 2013 it cost the fund $2.8 million because of reduced logging, according to the Department of State Lands. The rest of the canceled sales are on the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests.
 
State Department of Forestry spokesman Dan Postrel said the department began canceling timber sales in 2012 as it revised its protection policy for the murrelet, and that the settlement wraps up a total of 28 timber sales.
 
Postrel said the department is reviewing science related to the murrelet to “help inform the best long-term plans and strategies.”
 
The state managed the Elliott for years by protecting habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the murrelet but scrapped that approach after federal biologists refused to approve revisions that allowed more logging. Instead, the state adopted a policy used by private timberland owners that refrains from logging where protected species are actually living.
 
The lawsuit argued that rather than preserving a large area of trees around a murrelet nest, the department was leaving small patches and clear-cutting close around them, leaving the nests vulnerable to attacks by jays and ravens that eat the young.
 
The birds are difficult to spot when they fly swiftly into a stand of trees at dawn. The nests are difficult to spot, as well. The eggs are laid in a mossy depression on a large branch high in a tree. Laughlin said the department also has agreed, in a separate action, to stop its practice of sending its own observers to verify murrelet sightings by a contractor, which conservation groups feel violates the accepted scientific protocol.
 
“This was an incredibly arbitrary and reckless process that we believe, in the past, led to loss of occupied murrelet habitat,” Laughlin said.
 
Oregon Forest Industries Council President Kristina McNitt said in an email that the organization was worried that the state may not be able to meet its obligations to the Common School Fund and counties after withdrawing the sales.
 

Nov18

Lawsuit Blocks Elliott Logging

The World by Jessie Higgins
November 17, 2012

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 jhiggins@theworldlink.com.

Nov16

Lawsuit Chops Down Logging Plans on the Elliott

The Roseburg News-Review by Don Jenkins
November 15, 2012
 
A lawsuit filed by conservation groups has caused the Oregon Department of Forestry to sharply scale back logging plans in the Elliott State Forest for 2013, a year in which the state planned to ramp up timber production in the 93,000-acre coastal forest.
 
The three groups that brought the suit released a statement Wednesday hailing a decision by the department to defer most timber sales planned for next year.
The department, according to a Sept. 19 memo from District Forester Jim Young, suspended the sales because of the federal lawsuit filed in May.
 
Conservationists allege plans to increase timber harvests by 60 percent in the Elliott violate the federal Endangered Species Act by jeopardizing the marbled murrelet.
 
The state is contesting the lawsuit, and there’s been no ruling. But for now, the forestry department will suspend plans to log 914 acres, slashing from next year’s harvest plan 46 million board feet of timber with a gross value of $16 million.
 
Instead, the department plans to log 13.8 million board feet, with an estimated gross value of
 $4.1 million.
 
Cascadia Wildlands spokesman Josh Laughlin said Wednesday the conservation groups hope the pause in logging will lead to the state reconsidering how it will manage the Elliott.
 
“This clearly provides some much-needed interim relief for the imperiled marbled murrelet,” he said. “Our goal with the case is to work with the state to balance its plans.”
 
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Audubon Society of Portland joined Cascadia in the lawsuit.
 
The three groups and the state are in a dispute over logging in Oregon’s largest state forest, spread over portions of Douglas and Coos counties.
Conservation groups sued after the State Land Board approved increasing annual timber harvests in the Elliott from 25 million board feet to approximately 40 million board feet.
 
In recent years, timber harvests have raised $6 million to $8 million a year for schools and the two counties. Forestry officials estimated $9 million to $13 million would be generated through increased harvests. Under the scaled back plan, the common school fund will net an estimated $3.7 million, forestry department spokesman Dan Postrel said today.
 
The department estimates that each 1 million board feet of timber cut in the Elliott creates 11 to 13 jobs with an average annual wage of $36,000.
Citing the pending litigation, Postrel declined to elaborate on why the department voluntarily deferred timber sales.
 
State Rep. Tim Freeman, who supports increased logging on the Elliott, said he was initially surprised the department chose to suspend logging. He said forestry officials explained to him that the department hoped to strengthen its position in court by voluntarily waiting for the suit to be resolved before increasing timber harvests.
 
“I’m not saying it was the right decision, but I understand why they’re doing it,” said Freeman, a Roseburg Republican. “If it works, it’s a great choice.” In the meantime, the state will lose revenue and jobs, he said. “There is a cost to waiting.”
 
Postrel said the department will continue to look for ways to increase logging that won’t run afoul of the allegations contained in the lawsuit.
 
Laughlin said the conservation groups are not opposed to increasing the “controversy-free volume” of timber by thinning younger tree stands to make them healthier.
 
“We want to see the jobs created restoring the forest,” he said.
 
A timber industry spokeswoman, American Forest Resource Council Vice President Ann Forest Burns, hesitated to second-guess the state’s legal strategy, though she said the advocacy group generally opposes agencies halting logging “just because they’ve been sued.”
 
“That accomplishes the purpose of the lawsuit without a ruling on the validity of the lawsuit,” she said.
 
“There’s also a definite question about the responsibility to the taxpayers who paid for the work that went into the harvest plan. I would hope the department would stand behind their work,” she said.
 
The State Land Board — made up of Gov. John Kitzhaber, Treasurer Ted Wheeler and Secretary of State Kate Brown — OK’d a plan that requires forest managers to avoid disturbing marbled murrelets, while opening up the possibility of logging on older portions of the Elliott. Almost half the forest is covered with trees 90 to 145 years old, Postrel said.
 
Conservation groups argue the state should designate areas in the forest as marbled murrelet habitat as part of a long-range plan to revive the bird’s population.
 
Freeman said the Legislature should make clear to federal courts the state’s wishes by passing legislation to require annual harvests of a certain percentage of new growth in the Elliott.
 
The department of forestry estimates 75 million board of feet of timber grows in the Elliott State Forest each year.
 
The lawsuit is Cascadia Wildlands v. Kitzhaber and was filed in the U.S. District Court of Oregon.
 
• City Editor Don Jenkins can be reached at 541-957-4201 or djenkins@nrtoday.com.

 

Nov14

Press Release: Oregon Suspends Clearcutting in the Elliott State Forest

Contact:
Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands, (541) 844-8182    
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495    
Bob Sallinger, Portland Audubon Society, (503) 380-9728    
Tanya Sanerib, Crag Law Center, (503) 525-2722    
 
SALEM, Ore.- After a lawsuit by conservation groups, the State of Oregon has suspended logging of 914 acres of old-growth forest on the Elliott State Forest that is habitat for the threatened marbled murrelet. Previously, ten timber sales were suspended in response to the lawsuit filed in July by Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Audubon Society of Portland. The suit asserts that the state is harming the rare seabird by logging its nesting habitat in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

“The state of Oregon has been playing fast and loose with the law for years in the way it claims to 'protect' the imperiled marbled murrelet,” said Francis Eatherington, conservation director of Cascadia Wildlands. “The decision to further defer hundreds of acres of clearcuts is one that we welcome and provides interim relief for the murrelet.”

Plaintiffs discovered the logging deferral announcement in an Oregon Department of Forestry memo, dated Sept. 19, 2012, that was just recently posted to the Department's website. The memo suggests that the State will defer 15 additional timber sales until the lawsuit currently pending in U.S. District Court is resolved, and that the State will work to identify other logging projects that are free of the contested issues in the case. Plaintiffs have long advocated the state focus its timber operations on young plantation forests in need of restoration rather than older forests that are critical to the survival of a host of endangered species, including marbled murrelets.

“Logging on state forests cannot be done at the expense of the survival of the marbled murrelet or any other animals that depend on old forests for their survival,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The last remaining old forests in Oregon are precious and need to be protected not just for the marbled murrelet, but for future generations.”

The most recent status review of the murrelet by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found the birds have been declining by about four percent per year and that this decline relates to continued loss of habitat, primarily on state and private lands.
 
The State of Oregon recently abandoned its decade-long attempt to develop habitat conservation plans (HCPs) for the Elliott, as well as the Clatsop and Tillamook State Forests, that would have given it a federal permit for limited impacts to marbled murrelets in exchange for habitat protection measures designed to enhance the bird's conservation. Rather than improving habitat protections, the state walked away from the HCP process altogether and instead ramped up logging on all three forests. The lawsuit seeks to force the State to halt logging practices that are harmful to murrelets until it develops a plan that will protect murrelets and the mature forests on which the birds and other species depend.

“It is time for the State to return to the table and negotiate a balanced plan for each of the state forests that will provide adequate protection for the murrelet, allow for responsible and sustainable logging, and ensure that the State meets the requirements of the Endangered Species Act,” said Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland.
 
The conservation organizations are represented by outside counsel Daniel Kruse of Eugene, Tanya Sanerib and Chris Winter of the Crag Law Center, Nick Cady of Cascadia Wildlands, Scott Jerger of Field Jerger LLP, and Susan Jane Brown of the Western Environmental Law Center.

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