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Environment | Land

Marbled Murrelet Sightings Bring New Legal Challenge Re: Elliott State Forest

The presence of federally protected marbled murrelet is ratcheting up the debate over the sale of state forestlands to private timber companies.

The presence of federally protected marbled murrelet is ratcheting up the debate over the sale of state forestlands to private timber companies.

Audubon Society

The fight over the future of one of Oregon’s state forests is heating up with the recent discovery of endangered seabird habitat.

A controversial decision by the Oregon Department of State Lands to sell three plots of Elliott State Forest to timber companies has raised concerns by conservation groups.

I received a call on Monday afternoon from Pete Oliver, a surveyor with Coast Range Forest Watch, based in Coos Bay. He told me that marbled murrelet sites had now been found on all three plots.

The idea is that the presence of endangered species should be acknowledged and taken into consideration before the final closing.

Oliver told me they’d informed a handful of state and federal agencies but hadn’t heard anything back yet.

Then, this morning, a lawsuit was announced to prevent logging on those parcels (filed on behalf of Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity and Audubon Society of Portland).

The same groups filed another lawsuit in April that said the East Hakki Ridge plot couldn’t be sold because it was formerly part of the Siuslaw National Forest, which affects the rules for land sales by state agencies.

In some sense, the Elliott sales are a tidy encapsulation of a long-running conflict in Oregon’s economy and ecology.

Many rural counties have their budgets tied up in forestlands — the role of which has changed with the advent of the Endangered Species Act and the changing face of the state’s natural resource economy.

Revenues from the Elliott State Forest contribute to Oregon’s public education, although state officials cite money lost each year as the reason to sell off the land.

They say there was profit to be made selling the plots to Seneca Jones and Scott Timber.

While working on an earlier story, a conservationist with Cascadia Wildlands told me that Seneca Jones would clearcut the area — no matter what they told me.

To my surprise, co-owner Kathy Jones confirmed right away that her company would clearcut if awarded the land.

And so, as with many disputes about the environment and the economy, a notice of intent to sue and the possibility of litigation.

Devan Schwartz

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