Conservation and Fishing Groups Intervene to Protect Oregon Coast Coho

Conservation and Fishing Groups Intervene to Protect Oregon Coast Coho

With balanced state forest management at risk, groups step up to represent diverse interests, and file motion to intervene and join in State’s motion to dismiss.

Albany, Oregon; May 10, 2016 – Wild Salmon Center, Pacific Rivers, Association of Northwest Steelheaders, and Northwest Guides and Anglers Association yesterday filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit brought in January by Linn County against the State of Oregon and the Oregon Department of Forestry. The groups filed to join in a Motion to Dismiss filed by the State of Oregon on the same day.

The Linn County lawsuit seeks $1.4 billion in alleged damages from the State of Oregon for not maximizing revenue from state-owned and managed forestlands. For decades, the state has sought a varied and balanced mix of management approaches that produce timber revenue, provide for conservation of watersheds, and recreation. Linn County claims the state was required to maximize industrial timber harvest for the counties to the exclusion of other values.

The conservation and fishing interests intervened in order to demonstrate that state law and the history of the lands clearly support the approach the state adopted in 1998. Oregon statutes require the lands to be managed for the “greatest permanent value of those lands to the state.” The rules adopted in 1998 allow management for salmon and wildlife habitat protection, recreation interests, and clean water procurement, as well as timber production.

A state attorney general opinion in 2006 concluded the state does not have a contractual duty to elevate timber payments above other priorities, when managing state forests. The Oregon Supreme Court has also previously declined to characterize the state’s obligation as a contract, but has instead looked to the terms of state law to determine the state’s obligation.

Bob Rees, a professional fishing guide and board member of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association, noted the importance of state forests to the fishing industry. “Our fisheries have paid a high price for decades for industrial logging in the past, and great progress has been made to put our public lands on a more sustainable path for all the values Oregonians hold dear,” said Rees. “We can’t sacrifice our fisheries and fishing jobs for unsustainable timber harvests.”

“The law is clear: State forests belong to all Oregonians and the state is required to balance timber production with other values on state forest land,” said Bob Van Dyk, the Oregon and California policy director at Wild Salmon Center. “These lands came into state ownership because they were degraded and abandoned by private timber companies decades ago. Oregonians paid to reforest and protect the lands. Taxpayers don’t have to write huge checks to county governments simply because the state decided to include some modest measures for salmon and recreation.”

Ralph Bloemers, staff attorney with the Crag Law Center, is representing the conservation and fishing interests in the case. He said: “There are huge gaps in Linn County’s complaint, which fails to even mention that for over fifty years state law has noted the importance of fisheries, wildlife, and watershed protection, erosion control, and recreation. There is no sound legal basis for Linn County to seek 1.4 billion dollars in additional payments from the people of Oregon and for this reason the groups have moved to dismiss the case.”

John Kober, executive director at Pacific Rivers, noted the politics behind the lawsuit. “It should come as no surprise that the timber industry is helping to pay for this lawsuit. This is a re-run of an old Oregon story: the timber industry using their influence to extract resources from public land for their own private benefit.”

Ian Fergusson, who serves on the board of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, noted that the lawsuit threatened to undermine years of effort to find a balanced approach to forest management. “Our group has been working with the citizen-members of the Board of Forestry to balance timber interests with fish conservation and other values. This lawsuit threatens to derail efforts to find collaborative solutions that protect the salmon and steelhead that spawn and rear in state forest waters. The main reason coho salmon are still on the threatened species list is because freshwater habitat on the North Coast is badly degraded. More logging, more roads, and more herbicide spraying will only make it worse.”