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State agrees to cancel timber sales to protect marbled murrelet

By Chelsea Davis
The World

COOS BAY — A legal battle is nearly over with the proposed cancellation of timber sales in Elliott, Clatsop and Tillamook state forests that environmentalists say harm an endangered seabird.

State agrees to cancel timber sales to protect marbled murrelet

A photo from Coast Range Forest Watch depicts one of three parcels in the Elliott State Forest proposed for sale by the Department of State Lands.

COOS BAY — A legal battle is nearly over with the proposed cancellation of timber sales in Elliott, Clatsop and Tillamook state forests that environmentalists say harm an endangered seabird.

The Oregon Department of Forestry agreed to cancel 28 timber sales on the three state forests, according to a settlement filed Wednesday.

Three conservation organizations — the Audubon Society of Portland, Cascadia Wildlands and the Center for Biological Diversity — launched a lawsuit against the state in May 2012, arguing that logging in the three forests caused “take” of the marbled murrelet, in turn violating the Endangered Species Act. The murrelet, which nests on older trees’ wide limbs up to 40 miles inland, landed on the list in 1992.

The settlement also proposes a “more robust murrelet guidance policy that dictates what (the state) has to do when it discovers murrelets in proposed timber sales,” said Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands’ campaign director.

“No longer can the state just create these postage stamp size, arbitrarily drawn reserves,” he said. “Now they have to provide much more robust reserves that genuinely protect the murrelet.

“In addition to just habitat loss of nesting structures in trees is what murrelet scientists call nest predation, when the state creates reserves so small it creates an edge effect ... and invites nest predators to eat murrelet eggs.”

A judge has to accept the settlement before the case can be dismissed.

Environmental organizations are touting the settlement as a “monumental victory for the imperiled murrelet,” Laughlin said. On the other hand, the ODF said the settlement is a result of the department’s decision last year to cancel or modify 28 timber sales (23 in Elliott State Forest, five in Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests).

“In September 2013, the state filed a motion with the court asserting that the case was now moot, which led to the case’s settlement,” according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.

When the legal battle launched almost two years ago, state officials backed their position with the state constitution, saying around 90 percent of Elliott State Forest serves as an asset of the Common School Fund, which provides money to public schools.

Jim Paul, assistant director of the Department of State Lands’ land management division, previously told The Umpqua Post that the Elliott State Forest had been losing money due to nearly halted timber sales as a result of the lawsuit, putting a $2 million dent in the Common School Fund.

In December the State Land Board — Gov. John Kitzhaber, Secretary of State Kate Brown and State Treasurer Ted Wheeler — decided to move forward with sales of select tracts in the Elliott State Forest. Those are now canceled, pending judge approval.

“The state of Oregon needs to see more in our state forests than timber volume,” said Francis Eatherington, Cascadia Wildlands’ conservation director.

Now, Elliott State Forest harvests will drop from 40 million board feet per year to around 15 million, said ODF state forests spokesman Tony Andersen in a news release.

“ODF has initiated a review of science related to the marbled murrelet to help inform the best long-term plans and strategies,” Andersen said.

Lorna Stafford, State Land Board secretary, said this issue will not be discussed at the board’s Feb. 11 meeting.

Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity’s endangered species director, said the state and Oregon Department of Forestry are “paying the price” now for years of “flouting” the law.

“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,” he said.

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