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Marbled murrelet
The Oregonian, May 12, 2014

Don't clearcut Elliott State Forest, harm marbled murrelets, environmental groups warn timber companies
By Rob Davis

Environmental groups are threatening to sue timber companies who won bids to buy land in the Elliott State Forest. 

In a letter sent today to Seneca Jones Timber Co. and Scott Timber Co., three environmental groups warned the companies not to log the land, saying it would violate the federal Endangered Species Act.

The latest development in the back-and-forth fight over the coastal forest's future comes as volunteer surveyors report finding threatened marbled murrelet seabirds throughout all of the parcels the state is selling near Coos Bay. Until recently, those surveys had only documented murrelets on one parcel being sold. 

But volunteers from Coast Range Forest Watch, an environmental group, say May surveys repeatedly found marbled murrelets present on the land being bought by timber companies.

Clearcutting the land would harm the seabirds, say the environmental groups, the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands and the Audubon Society of Portland. Murrelets spend most of their lives feeding in the ocean but return to Coast Range forests to nest.

"These parcels, which once belonged to all Oregonians, should never have been sold in the first place," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Now that they've been sold, we're not going to allow them to be clearcut and contribute to the extinction of the unique marbled murrelet."


The groups won a similar lawsuit that halted logging in the state forest and ultimately led to the cancelation of planned timber sales there.

Like the spotted owl before it, the murrelet has become a cornerstone species for environmental groups seeking to curtail logging in Oregon. The bird's population in Washington, Oregon and California has steadily declined over the last decade.

The Elliott land being sold by the Oregon Department of State Lands saw its value drop after state and volunteer biologists discovered murrelets nesting there during surveys last summer. Timber once worth an estimated $22.1 million dropped to $3.6 million. Stands occupied by the small seabird can't be logged and aren't worth as much.

While worth less on paper, a state contractor's appraisal theorized the reduced value may allow small timber companies to buy the land cheap and log it anyway, skirting laws to reap the original, higher value.

The State Land Board oversees some 700,000 acres statewide and has a constitutional responsibility to maximize revenue from the land to fund K-12 education. But because logging was halted in the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest by the environmental groups' lawsuits, land management there cost the state about $3 million last year, a loss expected to continue in 2014.

Clearcutting the land would harm the seabirds, say the environmental groups, the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands and the Audubon Society of Portland. Murrelets spend most of their lives feeding in the ocean but return to Coast Range forests to nest.

"These parcels, which once belonged to all Oregonians, should never have been sold in the first place," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Now that they've been sold, we're not going to allow them to be clearcut and contribute to the extinction of the unique marbled murrelet."

The groups won a similar lawsuit that halted logging in the state forest and ultimately led to the cancelation of planned timber sales there.

Like the spotted owl before it, the murrelet has become a cornerstone species for environmental groups seeking to curtail logging in Oregon. The bird's population in Washington, Oregon and California has steadily declined over the last decade.  



This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton