Portland Audubon's work to protect the threatened marbled murrelet includes litigation, habitat restoration, advocacy and more.
Marbled murrelets are a Pacific seabird with unique habitat needs. Though they depend on the ocean for food, these robin-sized birds nest up to 30 miles inland in old- and mature-growth forests. When chicks fledge, they journey to the sea under cover of darkness, transitioning in one night from a life lived high in the treetops to one spent floating on the waves.
First listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1992, marbled murrelets are primarily threatened by logging, which has resulted in the destruction and fragmentation of the species' nesting habitat. The Audubon Society of Portland's work to protect this rare seabird includes litigation, habitat restoration, advocacy and more.
Audubon's Work to Protect Marbled Murrelets
The Audubon Society of Portland's history with the marbled murrelet goes back decades. In 1988, the organization commissioned biologist and longtime board member Dave Marshall to produce a status report on the species. The report concluded, "the principal factor affecting the continued existence of the species over the southern portion of its North American range is destruction of old-growth and mature forests. The situation is particularly critical in California, Oregon, and Washington States, which have very few coastal old-growth stands of significant size set aside."
That same year, Portland Audubon petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the species under the Federal Endangered Species Act. In the absence of federal action, Audubon brought a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1991 to force a listing decision, and in 1992, the marbled murrelet was formally listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Portland Audubon continues to use litigation to protect the species in places like the Elliott State Forest.
Audubon also works on the ground to protect marbled murrelet habitat, and has focused its efforts on an 80,000-acre area in Oregon between Cape Perpetua and Heceta Head that is home to the largest intact stand of coastal temperate rainforest in the lower 48 states. This area – designated by Audubon as the Marbled Murrelet Important Bird Area (IBA) – contains what may be the highest concentration of marbled murrelets in the state of Oregon. The landscape is owned by a variety of public and private entities, and its permanent protection is of critical importance to marbled murrelets and a variety of other species.
Portland Audubon owns and manages a 216-acre forested parcel, Ten Mile Creek Sanctuary, within the Marbled Murrelet IBA. Paul Engelmeyer, Portland Audubon's Coastal IBA Coordinator, manages the sanctuary with several land management goals: improve forest canopy, encourage wildlife habitat diversity, encourage succession to old-growth forest characteristics, and create a model for community-based protection and restoration efforts. He also works to influence surrounding landowners to shift toward a protection and restoration strategy for the area's forests.
Recently, Portland Audubon also contributed to efforts to create a new system of marine reserves and protected areas along Oregon's coast. These reserves will help protect critical ocean habitat for seabirds and other marine species. The marine reserve at Cape Perpetua is adjacent to the Marbled Murrelet Important Bird Area and Portland Audubon's Ten Mile Creek Sanctuary.