Environmentalists shut out of Oregon forest litigation

Mateusz Perkowski/Capital Press

Environmental and fishing groups will be shut out from high-stakes litigation over Oregon’s forest management policies, according to a judge’s order.

Linn County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Murphy has denied a request by several non-profit organizations to intervene in the lawsuit, which seeks $1.4 billion from Oregon on behalf of multiple counties.

“Passionate concern about something does not qualify an applicant for intervenor status,” Murphy said in the ruling.

The proposed intervenors included the Wild Salmon Center and its policy director for Oregon and California, Robert Van Dyk, as well as the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, Association of Northwest Guides and Anglers and Pacific Rivers Council.

Linn County filed a complaint against the State of Oregon earlier this year, arguing that 15 counties turned over 650,000 acres of their forestlands in the early 20th Century to the state in exchange for promises of future revenues.

In addition to Linn County, Benton, Clackamas, Clatsop, Columbia, Coos, Douglas, Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Marion, Polk, Tillamook, and Washington counties turned timberland over to the state.

Oregon has since breached that contract by enacting a “greatest permanent value” forest policy rule that prioritizes wildlife, water and recreation over logging, costing the counties $1.4 billion in past and future timber revenues, the complaint said.

The non-profit groups argued they should be allowed to intervene in the case because they have an interest in forest health and Linn County was effectively trying to increase logging in state forests.

However, the judge has held their participation is unnecessary in the litigation, which is focused on whether Oregon has violated contractual obligations to maximize timber revenues for the counties.

“Therefore the applicants have no unique ability to offer evidence to the court concerning the breach of contract issues,” Murphy said.

Intervenor status would have given the non-profits the full rights of defendants in the litigation. The judge also said they wouldn’t be allowed to submit friend-of-the-court briefs on legal issues in the case.

These arguments would focus on “consequences to third parties” of any potential ruling that shouldn’t be considered in a breach of contract dispute, he said.

Linn County opposed the proposed intervention of the non-profit groups because they could stand in the way of a possible settlement deal or challenge a ruling favorable to the counties.

“All they were seeking to do is be obstructionists,” said John DiLorenzo, an attorney for Linn County.

The role of the court in this case is to resolve a contractual dispute, not to “micromanage” the state’s forest management policy, DiLorenzo said.

To that extent, the non-profit groups have no more interest in the lawsuit than any other member of the public, he said.

Oregon can’t re-write its regulations without approval from legislators or state agencies, so the non-profits would have the opportunity to influence that process regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome, DiLorenzo said.

Ralph Bloemers, attorney for the non-profits, said he’s disappointed they’ve been excluded from the case because a possible remedy for Oregon would be to increase logging to the detriment of his clients.

The groups offered a different perspective than the State of Oregon because they don’t believe its forestlands are being managed in compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act or Clean Water Act even under current logging levels, Bloemers said.

Several timber groups are currently footing the legal costs for Linn County, which makes them represented in the litigation, he said.

The non-profit groups haven’t yet decided whether to appeal the denial of their intervention request, Bloemers said.

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