Timber Firms Join Murrelet Lawsuit

July 9, 2012

The Eugene Register-Guard by Karen McCown 
A Eugene lumber company is among forest industry firms intervening in a lawsuit filed in federal court by environmental groups against Gov. John Kitz­haber and state land and forest management agencies.
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken last week granted a request by Eugene-based Seneca Sawmill Co. and four other logging industry entities to join with state officials in defending the state’s plan to allow more logging in the Elliott, Tillamook and Clatsop state forests. All of the forests are in Oregon’s Coast Range.
The lawsuit by Eugene-based Cascadia Wildlands and two other environmental groups alleges that additional logging would harm the habitat of the marbled murrelet, amounting to an illegal “taking” of the seabird in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
The seabird is federally listed as a threatened species. It lays its eggs on large, mossy branches of primarily old growth trees, according to the complaint filed by Eugene attorney Daniel Kruse and other lawyers.
State officials have said they have a “vigorous” forest management plan to protect the murrelet but voluntarily suspended logging on 10 timber sales in the coastal forests until Aiken rules on the environmentalists’ motion for an injunction against logging while the case is being argued.
The state protection plan for the birds includes designated buffer zones of protected forest ranging in size from 20 to several hundred acres where murrelet activity is detected. The plan also requires curtailed logging schedules during the birds’ April to September nesting period.
The industry groups are expected to help defend the state’s forest policy.
Besides Seneca, they include the Oregon Forest Industries Council, Douglas Timber Operators, Scott Timber Co. Inc. of Coquille and Hampton Tree Farms Inc. of Salem. The council represents more than 50 logging and wood products companies, including Seneca and Scott. Other area members of the group include Eugene-based Guistina Land and Timber Co., the Murphy Co. and Eagle’s View Management Co. Inc; Springfield-based Rosboro and Timber Products companies; Starfire Lumber Co. of Cottage Grove; Davidson Industries of Maple­ton; Hull-Oakes Lumber Co. of Monroe; Menasha Forest Products Corp. of North Bend; Plum Creek Timber Co. of Coos Bay and Elkton-­based Rocking C Ranch.
Seneca legal affairs director Dale Riddle said Friday that the company decided to intervene individually in the case because it bought one of the contracts that has now been halted, the Millicoma Lookout timber sale, from the Elliott State Forest in Coos County. Under its bid, the company will pay $372.75 per thousand board feet of Doublas fir logged within the 54-acre sale area.
A state Forestry Department bid notice described the tract as containing 102- to 145-year-old, second-growth Douglas fir, as well as some red alder and western hemlock. The agency’s biological survey report on the sale noted that it contains “potentially suitable habitat for marbled murrelets.” It also reported 54 sightings of the birds within the tract in 2008 and 41 sightings in 2009.
The intervenors have an interest in the case because they rely on timber sales from state and federal agencies and because the public lands case could set a precedent restricting their “use and management” of private lands for timber production, Roseburg attorney Dominic Carollo wrote in their motion to join the suit.
Seneca owns and manages about 165,000 acres of Oregon forestland, some located within 50 miles of the Oregon Coast and within the range of the marbled murrelet, Carollo wrote.