Benson Ridge in the Elliott State Forest (photo by Francis Eatherington).

Press Release: Court Halts Logging of Elliott State Forest Tract Sold to Private Timber Company

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 28, 2022

Contacts:
Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, (314) 482-3746, email                      
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Bob Sallinger, Portland Audubon, (503) 380-9728

 Old-Growth Clearcutting Would Imperil Threatened Marbled Murrelets

EUGENE, Ore. — Today, a U.S. District Court judge issued a ruling preventing Scott Timber from clearcutting old growth forest previously part of the Elliott State Forest. The court found that the proposed logging of the “Benson Ridge” parcel by the subsidiary of Roseburg Forest Products would harm and harass threatened marbled murrelets, in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act. The court’s ruling permanently enjoins logging of the occupied murrelet habitat.

In August 2016, Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity and Portland Audubon filed suit seeking to block Scott Timber from clearcutting 49 acres of the 355-acre parcel of land because of the impacts to threatened marbled murrelets.

“Today’s ruling is groundbreaking because it holds a private timber company accountable for plans to destroy habitat essential for imperiled wildlife in Oregon,” said Nick Cady, legal director at Cascadia Wildlands. “This ruling establishes that private timber companies can no longer violate the Endangered Species Act with abandon.”

A Marbled Murrelet nests on the branches of mature and old-growth trees (photo by Thomas Hamer of Hamer Environmental).

Marbled murrelets are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The Act strictly prohibits “take” — which includes harming, wounding, harassing or killing — of protected species.  Marbled murrelets are sea birds with unique nesting requirements. They lay a single egg high in horizontal branches of old-growth trees within 40 miles of the coastline, and make daily trips to the Pacific to bring fish to their young once hatched.

Murrelets were documented in the stand proposed for clearcutting more than 200 times by both Coast Range Forest Watch, a group of citizens scientists who conduct murrelet surveys out of concern for their survival, and the logging company’s own contractors, leading the court to find that logging would harm murrelets “through the destruction and degradation of occupied murrelet habitat” and thereby impair the seabird’s ability to nest for “100 years or more.”

“I love marbled murrelets and I’m thrilled they got a little more protection from logging,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The state of Oregon, private timber companies, and all of us share a responsibility to stop extinction and protect forests. This decision is good news not only for murrelets, but for hundreds of other species and future generations.

In July of last year, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife uplisted the murrelet’s state protected status from threatened to endangered under Oregon’s Endangered Species Act. In response to a 2016 lawsuit, the Oregon Board of Forestry is in the process of developing rules to protect murrelet sites on state and private timber lands, but has dragged the process out for over five years and has yet to propose final rules. When presented with this lawsuit, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service declined to take up the case.

“Since their listing 30-years ago under the ESA, marbled murrelets have moved even closer to extinction in Oregon in large part because state and federal agencies have not done enough to protect and preserve the older forests on which they depend,” said Bob Sallinger, conservation director for Portland Audubon. “Hopefully this win and others that preceded it will encourage state and federal agencies to more aggressively pursue their responsibilities to protect and recover this amazing seabird that depends on Oregon’s older coastal forests to nest.”

The Benson Ridge parcel was acquired by Scott Timber as a part of the state of Oregon’s efforts to sell the Elliott State Forest in 2014. Cascadia Wildlands, Audubon, and the Center for Biological Diversity challenged those land sale efforts in state court in order to keep the much loved forest open to the public. In 2019, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the state’s efforts to sell the Elliott were illegal, and that the state’s understanding that these lands needed to be managed to maximize revenue were misplaced.

The court’s ruling builds on recent successful efforts to permanently protect the remainder of the Elliott State Forest. This past legislative session, the Elliott State Research Forest was created severing the link between old-growth timber sale revenues and public school funding in Oregon. The new research forest: 1) retains the forest in public ownership, 2) creates a 34,000-acre permanent reserve on the west side of the forest to benefit murrelets and other imperiled species, 3) protects nearly all of the remaining mature and old-growth forest left on the Elliott, and 4) meaningfully engages western Oregon tribes in its management.

The organizations were represented by attorneys for Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity, attorney Daniel Kruse and the law offices of Charlie Tebbutt.

Marbled murrelet, threatened seabird.

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Cascadia Wildlands defends and restores Cascadia’s wild ecosystems in the forests, in the courts, and in the streets. Cascadia Wildlands has over 12,000 members and supporters.
 
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
 
Audubon Society of Portland was founded in 1902 to promote the understanding, enjoyment and protection of native birds, other wildlife and their habitats. Today it represents over 16,000 members in Oregon.