Oregon’s Department of State Lands has announced a new proposal to sell 2,700 acres of the Elliott State Forest, to be voted on at a State Land Board meeting in December.
The plans for privatization include three parcels in the Western side of the Elliott State Forest. All three parcels contain sections of mature, never-before-logged forest –potentially habitat for the marbled murrelet, an endangered sea bird that nests in old growth. This summer, a group of volunteer marbled murrelet surveyors with the Coos County-based conservation group Coast Range Forest Watch documented murrelet nesting behavior in one of these parcels, making it a candidate for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
DSL says that the land sale is necessary in light of a pending lawsuit–filed last year by several conservation groups on behalf of the marbled murrelet– that has made the Elliott “unproductive.” Clearcutting murrelet habitat in the Elliott is currently halted under federal injunction.
“In a time when the State Land Board should be taking responsibility for the mismanagement of the Elliott State Forest, they are going over the heads of the public and the courts and finding ways to manage our public lands for profit instead of conservation,” says Erin Grady, an activist with Cascadia Forest Defenders.
DSL will accept comments on their proposal until September 3rd. With only two weeks left in the comment period, they have not released any details on age of stand, value of timber or potential environmental impact if these parcels are sold. “They are avoiding public process as much as possible with this decision.” says Grady.
Conservation groups are concerned that the parcels will be sold to the highest bidder–most likely to a logging company. Much of the private land that surrounds the Elliott State Forest is already managed by the Washington-based Weyerhaeuser Corporation, one of the largest landowners in North America. Under private ownership, raw logs from the 2,700 acres could be exported overseas, rather than processed in local mills.
“Once land is privatized, the public will never again have a say in what happens to it,” says Grace Pettygrove of Cascadia Forest Defenders. “It won’t be ours anymore- for jobs or the environment.”
Since 2009, Cascadia Forest Defenders have held tree sits, banner drops, and rallies to protest the clearcutting of native forests in the Elliott. In 2011, Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild and other conservation groups launched a lawsuit over the mismanagement of marbled murrelet habitat on state lands. Judge Ann Aiken issued an injunction in November 2011 that effectively stopped cutting in potential murrelet nesting habitat. The ongoing lawsuit is the catalyst for this abrupt plan to dispose of the Elliott. See the summary of the plan on the Department of State Lands website: http://www.oregon.gov/dsl/SLB/docs/agenda_items/2013%20Agenda%20Items/slb_jun2013_item1b.pdf
For photos of the parcels up for sale, follow this link. Media is welcome to use any of these photos: