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Timber companies can’t log former Elliott State Forest parcel, appeals court affirms

e Elliott State Forest. Coastal old growth, like that found in the Elliott State Forest, is prime nesting habitat of the threatened marbled murrelet.
Francis Eatherington
e Elliott State Forest. Coastal old growth, like that found in the Elliott State Forest, is prime nesting habitat of the threatened marbled murrelet.

Environmental groups celebrated the decision, calling it a win for protecting vulnerable species on private land.

A federal appeals court has sided with environmental groups over logging private land that was once part of the Elliott State Forest.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday affirmed a 2022 district court ruling that logging mature and old-growth trees on the 355-acre parcel would violate the Endangered Species Act because logging would harm the marbled murrelet.

This opinion means timber companies can no longer pursue plans to log the site’s large, old trees that these seabirds need for nesting.

Environmental groups called the decision a major victory for protecting vulnerable species in privately owned forests.

“It’s the first time a private timber operator has been held to account under the Federal Endangered Species Act,” Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands legal director, said.

While marbled murrelets spend most of their time diving for fish at sea, females venture inland once a year to nest in mature and old-growth trees. They seek out thick branches that are covered in moss so as to protect the single egg they lay.

Decades of commercial logging has decimated marbled murrelets’ critical habitat, prompting the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list them as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1992. They’ve been the center of several lawsuits since, particularly around the Elliott State Forest.

This lawsuit focuses on a parcel once owned by the state of Oregon. It’s one of several tracts the state tried to auction off in 2014 until the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that selling these public lands to private buyers would be illegal. The state instead pivoted to turning the Elliott State Forest into a research forest, plans that are still underway.

Some tracts still went to private buyers, including Scott Timber, a subsidiary of RLC Industries. The same company owns Roseburg Forest Products. Scott Timber planned to clearcut 49 acres on this parcel, which Cascadia Wildlands and other groups argued would harm marbled murrelets.

The company didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Copyright 2024 Oregon Public Broadcasting

April Ehrlich is JPR content partner at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Prior to joining OPB, she was a regional reporter at Jefferson Public Radio where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.