Ever since I was a little kid, the opportunity to travel to see mountains and forests got me excited. So, of course, I was extremely happy to have the opportunity to join Staff Attorney Tanya Sanerib and Crag’s clients and co-counsel on a site visit to the Elliott State Forest to view marbled murrelet habitat. Crag is representing Cascadia Wildlands, the Audubon Society of Portland, and the Center for Biological Diversity in a lawsuit against Oregon State officials for violating the federal Endangered Species Act. Currently, State officials are authorizing logging practices that are leading to “take” – i.e., harm, injury, harassment, etc. – of threatened marbled murrelets. Although some of these logging operations have been temporarily halted, the fate of the murrelet’s habitat is still undecided.
The Elliott State Forest is a little known gem of a forest located just off the Oregon coast near Reedsport south of the Umpqua River. Because it escaped the clearcutting practices that decimated most of the northwest in the early 1900’s, the Elliott has developed old stands of trees that are truly unique. Marbled murrelets depend on undisturbed mature and old-growth forests for survival, since they need thick branches covered in moss to nest and hatch their chicks. The Elliott is full of these types of mossy branches and is therefore one of the few remaining forests suitable for murrelet habitat in Oregon and on the west coast.
I was not only impressed with the Elliott, I was amazed. Coming from the east coast, I had never seen a large forest like the Elliot with old trees covered in moss. I traveled around the Elliott and viewed both protected murrelet habitat and habitat that is scheduled to be cut. I often had a hard time distinguishing between the two and understanding the rationale for cutting some places but not others. Both the protected habitat and the logging sites seemed to be composed of trees perfect for murrelet nests.
I am glad I had the chance to visit the Elliott State Forest and learn about the complex ecology of a mature forest. More importantly, I hope other people can visit the Elliott and the amazing camping, fishing, and forest enjoyment opportunities the forest presents. To me, the living, growing forest of the Elliott and the experience it offers is well worth protecting.