COOS BAY — Environmental activists who block timber sales in the Elliott State Forest may face stiffer criminal penalties in the future.
The Oregon House Judiciary Committee held hearings in Salem this week on House Bill 2595, which would create both first- and second-degree charges of interference with forestland management.
The second-degree charge is a Class A misdemeanor. The first-degree offense would be a Class C felony, and would carry a minimum sentence of 13 months in prison and a maximum sentence of 5 years.
If the bill becomes law, protesters who refuse to cooperate with law enforcement officers could be charged with the felony offense.
Rod Nichols, an Oregon Forestry Department spokesman, said previous timber sale protesters have been charged with interfering with an agricultural operation — a Class A misdemeanor similar to the proposed law’s second-degree charge.
Protesters also have been charged with criminal mischief and criminal trespass.
Law enforcement actions in the Elliott typically have been handled by Coos County and Douglas County sheriff’s deputies, with assistance from the Oregon State Police Mobile Response Team.
“It’s kind of unusual in the Elliott, because we have two counties involved,” Nichols said.
The Elliott was the site of major protests in 2009 and 2011, when activists tried to halt logging on two timber sale parcels. Authorities arrested 27 people during the 2009 protest at the Umpcoos timber sale site.
Logging at 11 sites in the Elliott and other state forests is currently suspended under an injunction handed down in November.
Reporter Thomas Moriarty can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 240, or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ThomasDMoriarty.