The Oregonian, July 2, 2012
By Lynne Terry
In a first, Oregon officials have suspended timber sales on hundreds of acres amid a legal battle with conservation groups over the threatened marbled murrelet.
The deferrals, which include suspending planned timber bids and halting logging, apply to areas in Tillamook, Clatsop and Elliott state forests that are used by the threatened seabird.
"The state of Oregon has never done this before," said Josh Laughlin, a spokesman for Cascadia Wildlands. "It's pretty clear it's due to this case."
State officials agree: "This is a new area for us," said Kevin Weeks, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry. "This is the first time this sort of action has been taken in response to a lawsuit."
Weeks said the state suspended sales so that officials who would normally work on timber sales could focus on preparing for a fight in U.S. District Court in Portland.
The environmental groups -- Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Audubon Society of Portland -- say that logging in marbled murrelet habitat is killing or displacing the small bird with a long beak that forages in the ocean but nests in mature and old growth forests. It's listed as threatened on both the federal and state endangered species list.
In May, the three groups filed a lawsuit against Gov. John Kitzhaber and Oregon forestry agencies in an effort to halt logging in areas where the bird nests. Weeks said the lawsuit represents the largest of its type for the Department of Forestry, prompting officials to defer timber sales or logging on:
-- three sites in Tillamook and Elliott state forests that were due to go up for bid in June
-- three sites in Elliott State Forest that have already been put out to bid but haven't been harvested yet
-- two sites -- one in Clatsop State Forest and one in Elliott State Forest -- where logging operations have begun
-- two sites in Elliott State Forest that were due to go up for bid in the next few months
The environmental group applauded the deferrals and called on the state to make them permanent.
"We hope that Governor Kitzhaber will permanently abandon these illegal timber sales," said Francis Eatherington, conservation director with Cascadia Wildlands.
She and others involved in the lawsuit contend that the state has turned its back on the marbled murrelet by abandoning attempts to develop habitat conservation plans for the three forests. That move could spell extinction for the bird, they said.
But Weeks disagreed. He said foresters already manage state lands to protect the marbled murrelet, for example by scaling down logging operations during nesting season.
One thing is certain, the bird's population has shrunk. In its 2010 survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife estimated there were 16,700 marbled murrelets from California to Washington. That compares with an estimated 22,200 in 2001, representing a 25 percent drop in nearly a decade.
Declines have been particularly steep in Washington, said Bridgette Tuerler, a marbled murrelet specialist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife. Numbers of the bird have varied in Oregon but she said the overall trend is down.
The lawsuit could take a year to come to trial but a judge is likely to call a hearing on the motion on the temporary injunction sometime this summer.
Copyright © 2012 Oregon Live, LLC.
This article originally appeared here.
|Photo © Paul S. Hamilton||HOME / DONATE NOW / SIGN UP FOR E-NETWORK / CONTACT US / PHOTO USE /|