For Immediate Release, February 5, 2014
Settlement Protects Marbled Murrelet on Oregon State Forests, Cancels 28 Timber Sales
Agreement Also Ensures Future Logging Won’t Harm Rare Seabird
PORTLAND, Ore.— Three conservation organizations secured a major victory today for Oregon’s coastal forests, reaching a settlement agreement with the state that cancels 28 timber sales in habitat for the threatened marbled murrelet on the Elliott, Clatsop and Tillamook state forests and improves future management practices to ensure the rare seabird is not harmed.
“This agreement provides immediate relief for the dwindling population of the marbled murrelet,” said Francis Eatherington, conservation director of Cascadia Wildlands. “The state of Oregon needs to see more in our state forests than timber volume.”
The agreement settles a legal challenge brought by the conservation organizations in 2012 arguing that logging of state forests authorized by the Oregon Department of Forestry harms the seabird, which is protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Marbled murrelets are unique among seabirds in that they nest on the wide branches of large, old trees, making a daily trip of up to 35 miles inland to bring fish to their young. Logging of their forest homes is the primary threat to their survival.
“This is a huge win for marbled murrelets and other species that depend on older forests,” said Bob Sallinger, conservation director of the Audubon Society of Portland. “The number of cancelled sales speaks to how out of alignment the State’s practices were with the law. Hopefully this marks the beginning of a new era of responsible and sustainable management of our state’s forests.”
“If we’re going to save the marbled murrelet, we have to protect the old forests this unique seabird calls home,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The state of Oregon and ODF flouted the law for years and now are paying the price. It’s time for the state to find a path forward that generates income for schools, but doesn’t drive species extinct in the process.”
ODF previously had a habitat conservation plan for the Elliott State Forest that allowed it to log some older forest habitat in exchange for protecting other areas critical for threatened and endangered species in the long term and was working on a plan for the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests. ODF then abandoned its plans in order to log areas it had previously promised to protect. This broken promise left the state vulnerable to the litigation filed by the groups in May 2012.
Under the settlement agreement, the state will now have to protect more habitat for murrelets on state forests. This habitat is key to protecting the species, as current research in the Pacific Northwest shows that murrelet populations are declining by approximately 4 percent per year. Clearcutting of older forest on the three coastal state forests is a contributing factor. The Elliott State Forest is a 93,000-acre forest located in the Coast Range east of Coos Bay. The Clatsop and Tillamook are made up of over 500,000 acres in the northwest Oregon Coast Range.
In addition to providing habitat for imperiled species, these forests have a mandate to generate revenue for county and state services. Rather than clearcut older trees in the three forests to help fund schools and roads, the conservation organizations have long encouraged the state to pursue beneficial opportunities. They recommend protection of the forests for use in carbon markets, a timber program that focuses on restoration thinning of dense plantation forests, the sale of key habitat to land trusts or other conservation interests, or a combination of these mechanisms.
The three conservation organizations on the suit are Audubon Society of Portland, Cascadia Wildlands and the Center for Biological Diversity. The groups are represented by Daniel Kruse of Eugene, Tanya Sanerib of the Center for Biological Diversity, Nick Cady of Cascadia Wildlands, Chris Winter of the Crag Law Center, Susan Jane Brown of the Western Environmental Law Center and Scott Jerger of Field Jerger LLP.
Thanks to everyone who came out on our plant identification walk in the Elliott State Forest! Twenty-four hikers (and three dogs) spotted wild ginger, Siberian miner’s lettuce, licorice fern, salal, huckleberry, myrtle, sorrel, yarrow, violet, cleavers, maidenhair fern and stinging nettle, just to name a few.
Our walk took place along Palouse Creek in the beautiful Adams Ridge area. Unfortunately, on March 28th, part of the Adams Ridge area is scheduled to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Two other parcels in the Elliott, Benson Ridge and East Hakki Ridge, will also be auctioned that day. Combined, these parcels total 1,451 acres. If these lands are sold to private interests, we will no longer be able to hike, hunt, fish, forage, bird watch or otherwise enjoy them. We will also lose the ability to make public comment on how these lands are managed.
Tracts 2 and 3 of Adams Ridge are scheduled to be auctioned this fall.
The state is moving forward with a plan to put about 2,700 acres of the Elliott State Forest up for auction. Gov. John Kitzhaber, Secretary of State Kate Brown, and Treasurer Ted Wheeler all voted Tuesday to authorize a potential sale.
It’s the latest twist in a long struggle over the management of the Elliott. The State faces a lawsuit over logging habitat of an endangered seabird on the forest, the Marbled murrelet. Amelia Templeton attended the State Land Board meeting and spoke with the governor about the decision to sell the land.
BH: So first, give us a quick sketch of the Elliott State Forest.
AT: The Elliott State Forest is unique. It’s about a 90,000 acre square in the Coastal Range near Coos Bay. It was created in 1930 to consolidate state-owned land that had a mandate to provide income for public schools. Among the state’s three forests, it’s the only one with such a designated role.
About half of the forest is 100 to 150 years old, and it contains some even older trees, all the way up to 600 years old.
Three slices of Elliott State Forest, in the Coast Range near Coos Bay, may go up for sale.
But as Gov. John Kitzhaber and the State Land Board prepare Tuesday to authorize accepting bids for the property, they face a big question.
Could they be letting it go for pennies on the dollar?
The three-member board will decide Tuesday whether to sell 2,728 acres of forest whose highest dollar value would have come from logging.
One problem: It’s not just trees for sale. State and volunteer biologists discovered threatened marbled murrelets nesting there during surveys this summer. Timber once worth an estimated $22.1 million dropped to $3.6 million, according to state appraisals. Stands occupied by murrelets, a small seabird, can’t be logged and aren’t worth as much.
While worth less on paper, a state contractor’s appraisal theorized that the reduced value may allow small timber companies to buy the land cheap and log it anyway, skirting the law to reap the original, higher value.