Environmentalists ask county to opt out of lawsuit

Audrey Caro Gomez

After initiating a $1.4 billion breach of contract lawsuit against the State of Oregon and the State Forestry Department, Linn County has received a plea from a group called North Coast Forest Coalition to opt out of the suit.

Linn County, the class representative, filed the lawsuit in March and class certification was granted in October. John DiLorenzo, of Portland-based lawfirm Davis Wright Tremaine, is class counsel.

The class consists of 15 forest trust land counties and at least 130 other government entities that share or receive revenue from the Forest Trust lands, according to the initial document.

The coalition sent letters to all the counties but not to each individual taxing district, said Bob Van Dyk, of Wild Salmon Center. Van Dyk said they received responses from Tillamook and Polk counties, both of which decided to opt in to the lawsuit.

Polk County counsel Morgan Smith responded, saying the county Board of Commissioners “respectfully declines” the coalition’s request.

Smith also advised the senders that they had addressed their letter to commissioners in Polk County, Fla., not Oregon.

“In the future, it may be in your best interest to learn the names of the local representatives who care about and are diligently working towards sustainable and balanced management of Oregon’s state-owned forests,” Smith said.

Van Dyk said the error in addressing the letter was due to a clerical error and they would send a letter of apology.

In addition to urging counties to opt out of the lawsuit, the letter from North Coast Forest Coalition, dated Dec. 1, encouraged the counties to “work with the Department of Forestry and other stakeholders to find a way forward that balances the many values at stake.”

The writers of the letter identify themselves as representative of “fishermen, guides and local residents, who live in your counties and benefit from county services.”

“We are a coalition of non-profit groups who care about sustainable and balanced management of Oregon’s state-owned forests,” the Dec. 1 letter from the coalition states.

The members of the coalition are the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, Oregon Council of Trout Unlimited, Northwest Guides & Anglers Association, Wild Salmon Center, Pacific Rivers, Native Fish Society, and Oregon Chapter Sierra Club.

The letter portrays two sides of the case, in favor of state.

The writers of the letter, which was sent to Linn County, state that “Linn County and certain timber companies want the forests to to be intensively logged and for the state to abandon strategies that promote clean water, wildlife, and recreational opportunities for all Oregonians.”

Additionally, they state “Linn County’s case is an attempt to force the state into an industrial harvest approach – with intensive cutting and pesticide spraying on short cycles to maximize wood and money.”

The letter goes on to state: “Our organizations support balanced management of these state forests for the long-term benefit of all Oregonians. We recognize and support sustainable timber harvests that provide critical revenues to government bodies like yours, as well as forest industry jobs for local residents.”

Roger Nyquist, chair of the Linn County Board of Commissioners said the county has not responded.

“We’re not opting out,” he said.

On Dec. 13, DiLorenzo filed a second request for production of documents.

Among the information DiLorenzo requested are “documents comprising or referring to any communications between any state employee or agency” and members or representatives of the coalition, each listed separately, regarding the class action notice or mailing list.

The document asked for a response within 30 days of the request.