Concealed Report Brings Bad News for Birds - Marbled Murrelet Needs Better Habitat Protection
July 1, 2004
Our fellow species adversely affected by industrial logging on the north coast are many--salamanders, voles, endangered flowers and lichens--but at the top of the list are salmon, spotted owl and marbled murrelet. Now a scientific report has been released that reveals likely extirpation (localized extinction) of the murrelet in California, Washington and Oregon. The report, commissioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), would counter bids for weakening species protections in national forests for the sake of increased logging proposed by the Bush administration and the reduced protection of nesting murrelets sought by Pacific Lumber (PL) in their attempts to rewrite their Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). [See article, this issue.] Despite the imperiled status of the bird, PL's HCP already allows logging close to 10,000 acres of marbled murrelet habitat and killing up to 340 of the birds via the HCP's "incidental take permit". But action on the findings has been delayed, presumably giving the timber industry the ability to muster their ammunition to attack the findings.
Though Canada and Alaska still support healthy populations, numbers have plummeted in the three states in question, declining 90% in California. Murrelets are elusive, lay only one egg per season and depend for their nests on the large, mossy branches of old growth trees. The birds, like anadromous fish, come back to the same areas year after year.
The "Evaluation Report for the Five Year Status Review of the Marbled Murrelet in Washington, Oregon and California" was commissioned as a result of a lawsuit brought against the federal government by three Oregon mills, forcing the Wildlife Service to review the bird's status, as it is required to do every five years. [The murrelet was listed as threatened by the federal ESA in 1992 and its Recovery Plan released in 1997.] The lawsuit plaintiffs are seeking to remove protections of the murrelet. The plan was completed in March but withheld from the public until an Oregon newspaper uncovered it, and now the FWS has asked for an extension on any action related to the report. The report further notes that the murrelet's future could be "severely compromised by changes to the Northwest Forest Plan," changes that are being pursued by the Bush administration. More than 5 million acres of public land in California are governed by the plan.
The best bet for recovery, says Cynthia Elkins of the Environmental Protection and Information Center, is on California's north coast, providing we can offer protection for current and potential habitat. "The marbled murrelet is a special creature that brings the spirit of the ocean and ancient forests together. This report delivers sobering news, but we're determined to see that its predictions are averted, and that the marbled murrelet continues to grace our skies and shores."
For more info see EPIC's website or call BACH.