Lawsuit seeks to block sale of Oregon forest lands

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 21, 2014 at 5:24 pm •  Published: April 21, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Conservation groups filed a lawsuit Monday to block the sale of a portion of the Elliott State Forest to a private timber company.

The lawsuit filed in Lane County Circuit Court in Eugene contends a 1957 law prohibits the state from selling any portion of the Elliott that previously was part of a national forest. It notes most of the 788-acre East Hakki Ridge parcel was part of the Siuslaw National Forest in 1913, when it was part of a land exchange that created the Elliott State Forest.

The Seneca Jones Timber Co. submitted the only bid for the parcel, which is near the southern banks of the Umpqua River in Douglas County and might include marbled murrelets, a threatened seabird whose habitat protection has meant less logging in the Pacific Northwest.

The state set a minimum bid of $1.82 million in the sealed-bid auction, and Seneca Jones topped it by $75,000.

Two other parcels, which attracted only two bids apiece, were sold to the Scott Timber Company. Neither of those is part of the lawsuit that names the Department of State Lands as the defendant.

Julie Curtis, a State Lands spokeswoman, said the agency would not discuss pending legal matters.

"Basically we believe we're on solid legal ground and are moving forward with all three sales," she said.

Seneca Jones officials did not return a request for comment. Co-owner Kathy Jones made waves before the sale when she told The Oregonian newspaper that the company did not need the East Hakki Ridge timber and submitted the bid as a challenge to "eco-radical" environmental groups who promised lawsuits to protect the marbled murrelet.

Francis Eatherington, conservation director with Cascadia Wildlands, said Jones' comments played no part in the decision to file the lawsuit. She said privatizing public land is illegal in this particular sale, making litigation inevitable.