The state of Oregon has completed the sales of three parcels of public forestland to private timber companies.
The finalized sales of 1,453 acres from a coastal state forest were announced Thursday by the Oregon Department of State Lands. The agency says it netted and about $4.2 million through the transaction.
A lack of revenues from the Elliott State Forest were cited as the main reason for the sale. The state's Common School Fund relies on revenues generated from state-owned lands.
Conservation groups are seeking to block one of the Elliott sales in state court, and to prevent logging on the other two in federal court.
Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Audubon Society of Portland have filed a lawsuit to prevent the sale of the East Hakki Ridge parcel based on a state law that says lands formerly part of the national forest system cannot be sold to private owners. It was formerly within Siuslaw National Forest.
The same groups filed a notice of intent to sue to prevent the taking of federally protected seabirds called marbled murrelets on the other two parcels (Benson Ridge and Adams Ridge 1). The birds are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Cascadia Wildlands campaign director Josh Laughlin said the groups will wait until the timber companies harvest timber and then sue under the Endangered Species Act, given surveys confirming marbled murrelets in the forest.
"It's critical that the laws are followed and upheld and the species is protected as outlined by the law," Laughlin said.
He added that Oregon cancelled timber sales on the Elliott in 2012 when presented with similar evidence of the federally protected birds.
Julie Curtis with the Department of State Lands says the Endangered Species Act will still be observed on private lands.
“The companies that purchased the land are certainly well aware of what they need to do to comply with the law regarding the protection of endangered species,” Curtis said.
An additional 1,250 acres are expected to be sold off in the fall from the Elliott State Forest, which is in Southern Oregon's Coast Range.