The Oregon Senate approved a bipartisan House Bill that allows logging companies to sue environmental activists who block logging operations. The Senate added an amendment on a statute of limitations issue, which the two bodies will have to iron out in conference before sending the bill to Gov. John Kitzhaber (D).
The Senate passed HB 2596 on a 25-3 vote. The bill allows logging and forest management companies with contracts applying to state lands to sue activists for financial damages when activists obstruct or sabotage logging and forest management operations.
The House approved its version of the bill in April, but the Senate added an amendment reducing the statute of limitations from six years to two.
“This bill benefits Oregon by ensuring there is order and fairness to all in the forest practices of our state. That benefits our economy and the public’s safety,” State Senator Betsy Close (R–Albany) told Environment and Climate News.
A companion bill, HB 2595, would have created a crime of “interference,” applying to protesters who intentionally engage in conduct that “hinders,” “impairs,” or “obstructs” forest management practices in a forestland or forest access road. Offenders would have faced a mandatory minimum prison sentence and fine. The bill died in the Senate Judiciary committee in late May after some senators expressed concern it might violate free speech rights by specifically targeting logging protesters.
President and CEO John Charles of Cascade Policy Institute (CPI) supports the bill.
“I believe HB 2596 will benefit Oregon by allowing contracts that have been lawfully executed to be implemented on the ground,” he said.
Charles said he supports the companion bill, also.
Activist Group Remains Defiant
Jason Gonzales, a spokesperson for the environmental activist group Cascadia Forest Defenders, says the bills were designed to target Cascadia members who protest logging in Elliot State Forest.
Gonzales said the sponsor of both bills, Rep. Wayne Krieger (R-Gold Beach), “made it clear” the bills were a “direct response” to actions CFD members have taken in the Elliot State Forest to block logging in forests that had not previously been logged.
“We got involved in this fight in order to protect ourselves from ridiculous laws and found support from many segments of the environmental movement. We were joined in opposition to these bills by major environmental and civil rights organizations,” Gonzales said.
Sen. Close said protesters were taking the law into their own hands by trying to physically block legal activities.
“Their ability for remedy is in the court system. Once a logging contract is signed and found in compliance with Oregon’s Forest Practices Act, the private entity has a right to proceed under the law. Those who hinder are technically trespassing, and they should be held accountable. They are breaking the law,” she said.
Gonzales said he has no doubt Kitzhaber will sign it into law.
“Our reaction is basically ‘bring it, we aren’t going anywhere,’” said Gonzales. “Cascadia Forest Defenders will continue to do whatever we can to physically block any native forest clearcutting that we have the resources to address, regardless of any legal or financial penalties.”
Alyssa Carducci (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Tampa, Florida.