Three environmental groups are suing to stop the state of Oregon from selling a 788-acre parcel within the Elliott State Forest.
The Audubon Society of Portland, Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands say the East Hakki Ridge parcel — one of several the state is selling to the highest bidder — can't be sold to a private company because it used to be national forestland.
In their lawsuit, the groups cite an Oregon law from 1957 that prohibits the sale of any lands within the Elliott State Forest that were formerly national forestland.
"We'd like to see the state back off from selling this parcel — and the other parcels for that matter," said Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity. "We don't think selling public resources to the highest bidder is in the best interest of Oregonians."
The lawsuit is the latest in an ongoing controversy over the marbled murrelet, a protected seabird that has triggered extensive logging restrictions in Oregon's 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest. A reduction in timber sales in the forest created a budget shortfall for the state, which is now in the process of selling five parcels of the forest to generate revenue.
The state reduced the appraised value of the timberland for sale after discovering marbled murrelets nesting in the tracts. The state had valued the timber on the East Hakki Ridge tract at $5,590,000 but recently accepted a winning bid of $1,895,000 for the land.
Julie Curtis, spokeswoman for Oregon Department of State Lands, said the sales are moving forward but they haven't closed yet.
"We've selected the apparent winning bidder but it's not closed until all the real estate documents are signed," Curtis said. "I don't know exactly when that will be."
According to DSL, the state has selected bids from Seneca Jones Timber and Scott Timber Co. for three parcels of state forestland. Seneca Jones has the winning bid of $1,895,000 on the East Hakki Ridge parcel. Scott Timber has the winning bids on two other parcels: $787,000 for Benson Ridge and $1,875,000 for Adams Ridge 1.
Seneca Jones co-owner Kathy Jones has stated that her company plans to clear-cut the forestland.
Curtis said it could take a few weeks for the sales to close. Environmental groups have asked the court to stop the sale of the East Hakki Ridge parcel from closing while their lawsuit is pending.
State leaders say they will consider selling additional parcels – and possibly the whole Elliott State Forest – based on the outcome of the current sales.
Greenwald said a large portion of the Elliott State Forest — 73,000 acres — was formerly national forestland. So, if the court decides the state can't sell East Hakki Ridge, that could prevent other future Elliott land sales.