Thomas Moriarity, The World
REEDSPORT — The forest floor, covered with broken tree branches, crackles beneath Max Emil’s feet as he weaves through the underbrush.
Traversing a densely-wooded region of the Elliott State Forest dubbed East Hakki Ridge, Emil said less than half of the area has ever been logged.
Just south of the Dean Creek Viewing Area near Reedsport, the 788-acre forest tract feels like a time capsule, packed with chest-high ferns and colossal Douglas firs.
A volunteer with Coast Range Forest Watch, a group that conducts marbled murrelet surveys in the Elliott, Emil said most of the forest is timber replanted after a fire in the 1800s.
This particular parcel was once part of the Siuslaw National Forest, ceded to the state in a 1913 land exchange.
“Compared to the rest of the coast, it’s pretty pristine,” he said, standing beneath Douglas firs and spruce he estimates to be more than 100 years old.
Emil and other activists are worried it might not be so pristine after its new owner gets hold of it.
On Monday, the Department of State Lands announced that Seneca Jones Timber was the only bidder for East Hakki Ridge, one of three parcels up for grabs in an auction authorized by the state land board.
The price — $1,895,00, only $75,000 over the state’s minimum bid requirement.
Roseburg Forest Products, through its subsidiary, Scott Timber Company, is scooping up the Benson Ridge and Adams Ridge One parcels for a total of $2,662,000.
The same day the winning bids were released to the media, Cascadia Wildlands — which had previously threatened to sue individual purchasers from logging the lands — filed suit in Lane County Circuit Court attempting to block the sale of East Hakki Ridge to Seneca Jones.
The Portland Audubon Society, the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildland’s spokesman, Josh Laughlin, are joining the group as plaintiffs.
“Respondent has erroneously interpreted a provision of law,” their lawyers wrote. “A correct interpretation compels the withdrawal of the East Hakki Ridge parcel from sale.”
The plaintiffs are attempting to get the sale canceled under ORS 530.450, which bars the sale of the forest’s former national forest lands unless exchanged for land of equal value.
Near the heart of the controversy is the value of old growth timber found in the auctioned parcels as habitat for protected bird species — including the marbled murrelet.
In 2012, a federal judge handed down an injunction blocking logging of identified marbled murrelet habitat in the Elliott.
A year later, the state land board authorized the sale of the Adams Ridge, East Hakki Ridge and Benson Ridge parcels, citing the declining value of the state’s Common School Fund, fed by timber sales from the Elliott.
Under the state constitution, the forestry department is supposed to manage state forests in accordance with “sound techniques of land management.”
Looking out across a dense valley of firs and spruce trees, Emil says those words ring a bit hollow.
“Sound management is a pretty vague term,” he said.