A federal judge in Eugene has ordered a pair of Oregon timber companies not to log on a former section of state forest near the south coast.
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken told Scott Timber Company and Roseburg Forest Products to halt further work on a parcel called Benson Ridge in the Elliott State Forest.
Her decision came Monday in response to a bid to stop logging by three conservation groups: Cascade Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Audubon Society of Portland.
They contend logging will destroy forty-nine acres of old-growth and mature forest that provides habitat for a rare seabird called the marbled murrelet. The bird is protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
Judge Aiken’s injunction will remain until the resolution of a lawsuit seeking to permanently block logging on Benson Ridge.
The parcel was part of the Elliott State Forest until 2014, when Oregon sold it. The state is in the midst of selling the rest of the Elliott State Forest. Officials say it’s necessary because environmental lawsuits have limited logging and prevented the state from generating enough money to manage the land and produce revenue for schools.
Conservation groups say Aiken's ruling strengthens their argument that the Elliott should not be sold and that if it is sold to a timber company, it should be held to stringent federal environmental laws.
"This demonstrates the incredible cynicism that underpins the state’s efforts to sell the Elliott off to private timber interests," said Audubon conservation director Bob Sallinger.
"Not only does it put fish and wildlife species at risk and eliminated use for future generations, but it also is predicated on those private timber companies returning to the illegal logging practices that the state was forced to abandon."
Last year the Oregon Land Board voted unanimously to sell the forest and use the proceeds to benefit the Common School Fund. The sole bid from Lone Rock Timber and Cow Creek Band described plans for public access under their ownership but did not specify how much.
It left open the possibility that the new owners might charge fees for access.
The most recent development came last week, when Gov. Kate Brown, an Oregon Land Board member, called for an extension and for the state to generate $100 million by selling bonds, which could help reduce the sales price for the Elliott and increase the chances that conservationists could buy the land and protect it from logging.