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Environmental lawsuit stops logging on Elliott State Forest

By Jessie Higgins
Coos Bay World

The state placed a moratorium on logging in areas of the Elliott and other state forests named in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups.

The state placed a moratorium on logging in areas of the Elliott and other state forests named in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups.

The Oregon Department of Forestry calls the lawsuit a “serious matter.” It was filed in May by Cascadia Wildlands and other groups to stop logging on 10 timber sites they say are home to endangered marbled murrelets.

“The lawsuit they filed can be characterized as a very large lawsuit that has serious impacts on state forest management,” said ODF spokesman Kevin Weeks.

Weeks said the ODF chose to halt all logging efforts in order to give its employees time to prepare for the case’s preliminary federal hearing, which could be within 10 weeks.

The decision comes after the environmental groups filed an injunction requesting all logging in the selected sites be stopped pending the preliminary hearing. That hearing, which will be presided over by a federal judge, will decide whether logging can resume or if it will be stopped for the duration of the lawsuit, a process that could take months or longer.

Cascadia Wildlands and the other groups are happy the Forestry Department chose to stop logging without the injunction.

“We are pleased that the state has suspended clear cutting in murrelet habitat on its own accord while this portion of the case proceeds,” Francis Eatherington, the conservation director at Cascadia, said in a news release. “We hope that Gov. Kitzhaber will permanently abandon these illegal timber sales, prevent any other like them in the future, and begin acting within the law in managing our state forests.”

The groups hope the lawsuit will ultimately spur the state to complete a habitat conservation plan for managing state forests. Such a plan allows for logging, but manages the forest as a whole, trying to keep large areas of habitat intact.

The state had worked for ten years to develop a habitat conservation plan, which would give them a federal incidental take permit that would allow logging in areas that were home to endangered species in exchange for setting aside other habitat.

This year, the state adopted a forest management plan instead partly because the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife would not sign off on ODF’s proposed conservation plan.

The forest management plan allows ODF to log any area of the forest so long as an endangered animal does not live there.

“What the state is doing now is haphazardly logging,” said Nick Cady, the legal director at Cascadia Wildlands. “A habitat conservation plan would allow for logging, but ensure for the preservation of species and coastal old growth.”

The lawsuit pertains to eight logging sites on the Elliott and two others in the Clatsop and Tillamook state forests. Two of the sites in questions have already been logged, but the felled timber remains untouched. Three sites had previously been sold, another three were going to be offered to bid in late June and a final two had no bid date set, Weeks said.

Unlike other Oregon forests, revenue from the Elliott goes into the Common School Fund, which partly funds state schools.

Reporter Jessie Higgins can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 240, or jhiggins@theworldlink.com.

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