Marbled murrelets have been observed in the East Hakki timber sale in the Elliott State Forest, according to the Coast Range Forest Watch, a group of citizen scientists that regularly surveys for the threatened sea birds that fly many miles in from the ocean to nest in the Elliott.
East Hakki is a 785-acre parcel that was auctioned from public ownership to private hands in April for $1,895,000. Oregon’s Department of State Lands sold it to Seneca Jones Timber, a Eugene-based timber company whose owners told The Oregonian in April that the bid was “very much a personal decision” in response to environmental groups that had vowed to protest and sue to protect the land.
Two other parcels were sold off in April, Adams Ridge Tract 1 and Benson Ridge. The money from the sales goes toward Oregon’s Common School Fund. “Clearcutting public old-growth forests to fund schools is as archaic as killing elephants for ivory,” says Josh Laughlin of Cascadia Wildlands.
The discovery of the murrelets will decrease the land’s worth, since logging activities are not allowed under the Endangered Species Act, Laughlin says. He says the East Hakki tract is valued at $5,590,000 without the presence of murrelets, but only $1,311,000 with them. Either way, he says, the state sold the land for just barely above the minimum bid, and far below the total appraisal.
Amanda St. Martin, one of the surveyors for Coast Range Forest Watch, was in the group of surveyors to spot the marbled murrelets in East Hakki.
“They were flying below canopy height, which means they need to use that area for their nest,” St. Martin says. Murrelets fly about 40 miles inland to nest and lay only one egg in old-growth forests. Habitat loss has been a major factor in their threatened status in Oregon, says Laughlin, who describes the murrelet as an “incredible little seabird.”
“The bottom line is the survey data demonstrates that the forested stand is occupied by the marbled murrelet, which means it’s illegal to log it and we are continuing to explore all options to ensure the public forest remains vertical and that laws are upheld,” Laughlin says.
Earlier this year Cascadia Wildlands and other environmental organizations successfully sued the Oregon Department of Forestry to halt the sale of 26 parcels in Elliott Forest.
Laughlin says, “We need leadership and political will to decouple cutting our heritage forest for school funding. And until that’s done, there will continue to be intense public opposition to this antiquated policy.”
The recent observations at East Hakki don’t have implications just for the preservation of marbled murrelet habitat, but also for larger issues of public and private land use.
“It’s not just the marbled murrelet habitat that’s affected, it’s every Oregon resident who can and does enjoy these places for any amount of recreation,” St. Martin says. “Once these lands are sold to private interests, then nobody will be able to access them any more.”
Adams Ridge Tract 1 and Benson Ridge are currently being surveyed for murrelets.
Adams Ridge Tracts 2 and 3 are set for sale in fall 2014.