Cascadia Wildlands, Portland Audubon, 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.
Founded in 1902, Portland Audubon is one of the oldest conservation organizations in the nation. It promotes the understanding, enjoyment and protection of native birds, other wildlife and their habitats through its conservation and environmental education programs, its 150-acre Nature Sanctuary and Nature Store in northwest Portland, and its Wildlife Care Center.
For more information, call 503-292-6855 or visit www.audubonportland.org.