Lawsuit alleges Oregon Department of Forestry is violating Endangered Species Act in Tillamook, Clatsop State Forests

Eugene – A contingency of fishing and conservation groups on June 13 filed a lawsuit in Oregon’s U.S. District Court arguing that some Oregon Department of Forestry logging practices violate the Endangered Species Act of 1973, endangering protected coho salmon.

The plaintiffs — the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, the Institute for Fisheries Resources, and the Native Fish Society — claim road-building and logging on steep slopes in the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests causes landslides and erosion that damage salmon habitats in northwest Oregon when detrimental sediment is released into coho salmon spawning grounds.

The Tucson, Ariz.-based nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, which operates a bureau in Portland, issued a press release that says the lawsuit, filed in Eugene, aims to spur the Oregon Department of Forestry into changing its practices by following guidelines included in a habitat conservation plan the forestry department itself developed in the late 1990s but never finalized.

The habitat conservation plan, in its original draft form, would allow logging companies to harm some threatened and endangered species as long as those companies guaranteed long-term habitat protections, the press release says.

“Logging by the Oregon Department of Forestry is one of the main reasons our coastal coho are in trouble,” Center for Biological Diversity Director Noah Greenwald said. “The department needs to do more to ensure it doesn’t harm these beautiful and important fish.”

The Tillamook and Clatsop state forests are home to 500,000 acres on the Oregon North Coast that are essential to the survival of coho salmon. A lack of adequate protection for streams on that land was the primary reason the National Marine Fisheries Service decided to implement the Endangered Species Act in order to protect the fish, the press release says.

In 2011, the Center for Biological Diversity published a status review that said it could not conclude that state forest management plans were providing adequate protection for Oregon coast coho salmon habitats from the aforementioned logging practices.

The Center filed a similar notice in 2014 but delayed litigation because Oregon Forestry Department officials claimed to be working with conservation groups and the timber industry to develop a new management plan that would avoid harming streams and the salmon populations within. Four years now have passed and no new plan has materialized, the press release states.

“Oregon Coast coho aren’t just fish. They’re an indicator for (sic) the health of our coastal communities, rivers and forests,” said Mark Sherwood, executive director of the Native Fish Society. “In recent years, thanks to so much good on-the-ground work, these remarkable fish have gone from the brink of extinction to a pathway toward recovery. Now it’s time to recover our coho to real abundance so they can once again enrich our communities and our land. It’s time for Oregonians to embrace our role as stewards and reform our logging practices.”

The Banks Post/Gales Creek Journal is developing this story and will have more information next week about the local and regional impact this lawsuit may have on logging companies and waterways.

Daniel Pearson

Daniel Pearson holds a bachelors in journalism and an MBA in marketing. He’s a 10-time, Oregon SPJ award-winning journalist, a two-time winner of an ADDY (advertising) for copywriting, and a one-time award winner for fiction for the NW Coastal Writer’s Series. Email: Twitter: @rosecitywriting