Cascadia Wildlands has been working for over a decade to end the industrial-style clearcutting of the old-growth coastal rainforest in the Elliott State Forest. The effort to protect this forest has been a tumultuous saga, involving numerous legal challenges detailed below. We are currently at a critical juncture for this wildly important forest, and your support on this campaign is needed!
The Elliott is approximately 93,000 acres of gorgeous rainforest just east of Coos Bay that is owned and managed by the state of Oregon. The large contiguous tracts of old forest in the Elliott are incredibly rare in Oregon’s coast range which is largely private industrial timber lands, and as such this state forest provides critically important habitat for a number of imperiled species including the northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet, and coastal Coho salmon.
Given the presence of these federally protected species, the state was required to get a federal permit and a Habitat Conservation Plan with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in order to log in the Elliott. This plan allowed the state to generate revenue by logging, with large portions of the forest set aside as reserves. After a decade the state had to focus on restoring the logged portions. In 2011, after the ten year period, the state voted to abandon this plan, double the amount of logging on the forest, and log in the areas previously reserved. This decision was incredibly short-sited because it removed the state’s insulation from federal environmental laws that prohibit damaging impacts to endangered species.
After numerous letters and warnings, in 2012 Cascadia Wildlands filed a legal challenge against Oregon’s Department of Forestry for killing threatened and endangered species, specifically the marbled murrelet, under the aggressive new plan. The impacts to these imperiled species were patently obvious, and the Court promptly enjoined logging in forests occupied by the murrelet and the state was forced to suspend its operations in these old forests.
In a knee-jerk response to the injunction, the state immediately began exploring options to sell the entire Elliott State Forest. Aside from the disposal of the crown jewel of its state forest system, this approach is plainly illegal under state law. The Elliott State Forest was acquired from the federal government under the promise that the lands would not be sold. Pushing blindly ahead, the state proceeded with auctioning off three “test parcels,” in order to get a per acre value for the forest. These parcels sold at an enormous discount to two private timber companies, and Cascadia Wildlands was again forced to sue the state to enforce the laws prohibiting the sale. We recently received a favorable ruling in our favor from the Oregon Court of Appeals holding it was illegal for the state to sell parcels of the Elliott State Forest! It is likely this case will proceed to Oregon’s Supreme Court.
Despite the lawsuit and clear laws prohibiting the sale, the state proceeded with plans to sell approximately 84,000 acres, or 90% of Elliott State Forest. Cascadia Wildlands has been involved in this process, rallying hard to prevent any outcome that amounts to privatization of the forest. These efforts paid off! On May 9, 2017, the State Land Board, made up of Governor Kate Brown, Treasurer Tobias Read and Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, terminated the protocol that led to the timber industry proposal to privatize the 82,500-acre Elliott State Forest in the Oregon Coast Range.
Not only was the protocol terminated, but our efforts resulted in the award of a $100 million dollars to permanently protect the Elliott and prevent further privatization efforts. Cascadia’s work on this front is ongoing as coalition groups now work on detailed plans for the forest’s future.
Despite the recent ruling by the Oregon Court of Appeals that it was illegal for the state to dispose of Elliott State Forest lands, early in the process the state successfully sold the Benson Ridge parcel. Before and after the sale, Cascadia repeatedly warned the timber industry purchasers that the forests being sold were occupied by threatened and endangered species, specifically the marbled murrelet. Each company indicated it had no immediate plans to log.
In August 2016 one of these companies moved to clearcut the old-growth it purchased. Cascadia Wildlands and our longtime allies on the Elliott, the Center for Biological Diversity and Portland Audubon, were able to temporarily halt the logging, and challenge the proposed clearcutting in court. This case is ongoing and we hope that this legal action will discourage other timber interests from placing bids on old-growth forests occupied by imperiled species.
The work on this forest continues, but a long, hard-fought journey towards a free and wild Elliott State Forest is nearing completion. Your voice has been persistent and persuasive on this front, and our efforts would have failed without your support. Thank you!
Stay tuned for more legal developments concerning the Elliott State Forest!