80% of Oregon’s residents and communities draw their drinking water from rivers and streams that begin in a forest (photo by Andrew Kumler).

Press Release: Oregon Court Rules Sale of Elliott State Forest Tract Illegal

For Immediate Release
August 1, 2018

Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands, (541) 844-8182
Micah Meskel, Audubon Society of Portland, (503) 481-5715
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Daniel Kruse, Attorney, (541) 337-5829

Oregon Court Rules Sale of Elliott State Forest Tract Illegal

Old-growth Forest East of Coos Bay Will be Retained in Public Ownership

SALEM, Ore.— The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled today that the 2014 sale of the 788-acre East Hakki Ridge tract on the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest east of Coos Bay was illegal. The ruling, which overturns the sale of the public land to a private timber company, marks a major win for the state’s public lands.

“This is a huge victory for public lands enthusiasts who were locked out of the forest after the state of Oregon recklessly sold this tract to the timber industry,” said Josh Laughlin, executive director of Cascadia Wildlands and an individual plaintiff in the case. “Privatizing public land would have been a disaster for imperiled salmon and wildlife that rely on clean water and old forests to survive.”

Cascadia Wildlands, Audubon Society of Portland and Center for Biological Diversity brought the lawsuit under an Oregon law, ORS 530.450, which states that it is illegal to sell the Elliott State Forest. State officials defended their decision to dispose of the parcel in court saying the State Land Board should not be required to follow the law.

“The decision by the state to sell off portions off the Elliott State Forest and avoid its legal obligations to protect imperiled marbled murrelets and the forests in which they depend was fundamentally flawed from the start,” said Bob Sallinger, conservation director for Portland Audubon. “It is now time for the state to step up and manage this amazing forest in a way that truly protects murrelets, spotted owls, coho salmon and other species that depend on our older forests.”

The state’s privatization scheme was in direct response to a successful 2012 case brought by the same conservation organizations, which halted dozens of old-growth timber sales on the Elliott, Clatsop and Tillamook state forests, where threatened marbled murrelets were nesting.

The imperiled seabird is unique, flying upwards of 40 miles inland to lay a single egg on a wide mossy limb in the region’s remaining older rainforests. Clearcutting of its habitat is the bird’s primary threat.

“The state should never have sold these public lands in the first place,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Elliott State Forest is a treasure to all Oregonians, providing critical habitat to coho salmon, marbled murrelets and people alike.”

ORS 530.450 withdraws from sale any lands on the Elliott State Forest that were originally part of the Siuslaw National Forest. The East Hakki Ridge parcel, located just south of the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area on Highway 38, fell within this category.

“The Elliott State Forest is one of the few places left in the Oregon Coast Range that has not been completely mowed over,” said attorney Daniel Kruse. “It is such a beautiful and important place, and today’s decision confirms that it cannot be sold off to the highest bidder for a quick dollar.”

Sold to Seneca Jones Timber Company, the East Hakki Ridge parcel was one of a handful of forested tracts the state sold to the timber industry in 2014. Another parcel, the 355-acre Benson Ridge tract, was sold to Scott Timber Company and is also currently subject to litigation.

The different state sales were looked at as test cases to sell off the entire Elliott State Forest to the timber industry. The State Land Board, made up of the governor, secretary of state and treasurer, oversees management of the Forest and was ready to sell the entire forest in 2017.

After significant grassroots organizing and legal campaigns by concerned Oregonians, the Land Board, led by Gov. Kate Brown, reversed course and opted to keep the treasured forest in public ownership. The 2017 Oregon Legislature later allocated $100 million in bonding revenue to help keep the forest public for the diversity of values it offers, like clean water, old-growth forests, salmon and wildlife habitat, carbon storage and recreation opportunities.

The plaintiffs were represented by attorneys Daniel Kruse of Eugene and Nicolas Cady with Cascadia Wildlands.

(photo by Andrew Kumler)