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Court Halts Logging of Elliott State Forest Tract Sold to Timber Company

A U.S. District Court in Eugene has issued a preliminary ruling preventing Scott Timber from clearcutting a parcel of the Elliott State Forest purchased from the state of Oregon. The court found that the proposed logging of the Benson Ridge parcel by the subsidiary of Roseburg Forest Products would likely harm threatened marbled murrelets, in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.

Court Halts Logging of Elliott State Forest Tract Sold to Timber Company

Photo by Roy W. Lowe

Old-Growth Clearcutting Stopped to Protect Threatened Marbled Murrelets

EUGENE, Ore.— A U.S. District Court in Eugene has issued a preliminary ruling preventing Scott Timber from clearcutting a parcel of the Elliott State Forest purchased from the state of Oregon. The court found that the proposed logging of the Benson Ridge parcel by the subsidiary of Roseburg Forest Products would likely harm threatened marbled murrelets, in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.  

In August Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity and Portland Audubon filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block Scott Timber from logging the 355-acre parcel of land, part of the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest until 2014 and home to threatened marbled murrelets. The Endangered Species Act strictly prohibits “take” (harm, harassment or killing) of threatened species like the murrelet, which, unlike any other seabird, nests on the wide branches of large, old trees, making a daily trip of up to 35 miles inland to bring fish to its young. The court’s ruling on Monday prevents the logging of the Benson Ridge parcel until a full trial can be had on the merits.

“Today’s ruling has enormous implications for the state of Oregon’s efforts to dispose of the Elliott State Forest to private timber interests,” said Nick Cady, legal director at Cascadia Wildlands. “The state represented to these private timber interests that the forest could be logged without legal consequence, and this ruling establishes that private timber companies can no longer violate federal environmental laws with abandon.”

The court’s decision is well timed. On Dec. 13 Oregon’s State Land Board postponed a decision on a pending proposal to sell the remaining 82,000-acres of the Elliott State Forest to Lone Rock Timber Company. The court’s injunction halting the logging planned by Scott Timber indicates Lone Rock could be held liable under federal environmental laws for clearcutting the old-growth forests that once belonged to all Oregonians.

“The state of Oregon should never have sold this land,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Not only does it have important habitat for the marbled murrelet and other wildlife, but it was there for all Oregonians to enjoy.” 

In 2012 the three groups sued the state of Oregon for illegally logging marbled murrelet habitat on the Elliott and other state forests. The state settled the suit in 2014, agreeing to drop 26 timber sales and stop logging in occupied murrelet habitat. But following the loss, the state sold three parcels totaling 1,453 acres, even though they contained mature and old-growth forests that are occupied by the murrelet, including the 355-acre Benson Ridge parcel. 

“This demonstrates the incredible cynicism that underpins the State’s efforts to sell the Elliott off to private timber interests,” said Audubon conservation director, Bob Sallinger. “Not only does it put fish and wildlife species at risk and eliminated use for future generations, but it also is predicated on those private timber companies returning to the illegal logging practices that the State was forced to abandon.” 

The court’s preliminary ruling is one of several promising developments for the protection of old-growth forests in Oregon critical to the survival of murrelets and other imperiled wildlife. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recently initiated a process to uplist the murrelet’s state protection status from threatened to endangered. The Oregon Board of Forestry recently decided to take up a petition to identify and develop rules to protect murrelet sites on state and private timber lands.

Cascadia Wildlands represents approximately 10,000 members and supporters and has a mission to educate, agitate and inspire a movement to protect and restore Cascadia’s wild ecosystems.

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.

Elliott State Forest by Tim Giraudier
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