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Greater Protections Sought for Threatened Marbled Murrelets in Oregon

Conservation groups submitted petitions today asking the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the Oregon Board of Forestry to take new measures to better identify and protect important forest areas for protected marbled murrelets.

PORTLAND, Ore.-- Conservation groups submitted petitions today asking the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the Oregon Board of Forestry to take new measures to better identify and protect important forest areas for protected marbled murrelets. The petition to ODFW requests that the agency “uplist” the marbled murrelet to “endangered” status under the Oregon Endangered Species Act (OESA). The petition to the Board of Forestry asks the agency to identify and protect important forest sites critical to the species’ survival. The agencies are required to work together to recover murrelets.  

Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild, Coast Range Forest Watch, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Audubon Society of Portland and the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club signed on to the petition, citing Oregon’s weak Forest Practices Act and the continuing clear-cutting of the sea-bird’s habitat. While murrelets have been listed as a “threatened” species for nearly 30 years, Oregon has never developed a plan to recover them or protect the old-growth forests where they live.

“Because murrelets are currently listed as ‘threatened’ under state law, Oregon has a duty to protect and recover this species and its habitat,” said Nick Cady, Legal Director at Cascadia Wildlands. “Not only has the state failed to take any meaningful measures to recover and protect murrelets, the state itself, through aggressive clearcut logging on its state forests, is primarily responsible for the recent dramatic loss in breeding habitat. ‘Endangered’ protections will not only more accurately reflect how vulnerable Oregon’s murrelets and old-growth forests are, but also ensure the development of a plan to protect and recover these elusive sea-birds and their habitat.”

The marbled murrelet was originally listed under the Oregon Endangered Species Act in 1987. Despite this listing and commitment to recovery, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has not developed survival guidelines for the species, leaving the murrelet in limbo with no enforceable mechanism from Oregon to help their population recover. The Oregon Board of Forestry has similarly neglected responsibilities to identify and protect forest areas critical to murrelet recovery on state and private lands. 

Clearcutting on private lands to export raw logs to Asia, and clearcutting of older forests and potential habitat on state lands has fragmented Oregon’s coastal rainforests and put the bird at even greater risk of extinction. Conservation efforts from these two agencies should result in the identification of critical habitat areas for the species and compel the development of rules to protect these areas.

“For the last 30 years, Oregon’s plan for marbled murrelets has been to look the other way while their habitat is clear-cut,” said Oregon Wild Conservation Director Steve Pedery. “Oregonians expect better from our governor and state agencies. They need to develop a plan to protect murrelets and their habitat, and they need to stand up to pressure from the clearcut lobby and the county politicians who do their bidding.”

Murrelets only nest and roost in old-growth and mature forests — forest that are at risk from proposals to increase logging on Bureau of Land Management lands in western Oregon, and from Oregon’s efforts to ramp up logging on state forests and privatize the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest east of Coos Bay. The murrelet monitoring report released last month by leading murrelet biologists stressed the urgent need to “arrest the loss of suitable habitat on all lands, especially on non-federal lands in the relatively near term.”

“We live in a state where Oregonians treasure our old-growth forests and wildlife, but where there is a growing gap between the public’s values and the actions of our politicians and state agencies,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “State regulators and Gov. Brown have a legal and moral responsibility to protect murrelets and their forest habitat.”

According to statute, ODFW has, as its primary mission, an obligation “to prevent the serious depletion of any indigenous species.” However, the agency currently spends 2 percent of its budget on conservation, and in recent years has come under increasing criticism for prioritizing logging, grazing and other extractive interests over its conservation mission.

"Oregonians treasure our old-growth forests and wildlife, and the state has an obligation to conserve these iconic species and habitats for the enjoyment of present and future generations,” said Chris Smith with the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Our management policies and practices need to align with these values and ODFW's responsibility."

“Marbled murrelet populations are spiraling downward in the Pacific Northwest and the State's outdated clearcutting policies are a big part of the problem," said Audubon Conservation Director, Bob Sallinger. "If we are going to have any hope of recovering this species, the State needs to step-up and recognize its responsibility to protect marbled murrelets and other old-growth dependent species.

Background: The marbled murrelet is a member of the auk family, which includes birds like auklets, guillemots and puffins. These sea-birds get their name from the marbling pattern of black, gray and white that covers their backs during the non-breeding season. When murrelets are breeding, they molt to a plain brown plumage. They form lifelong breeding pairs and feed on small, schooling fish, such as herring.

Populations of marbled murrelets are closely tied to the amount of old forest habitat available for nesting. The central Oregon coast is one of the last strongholds for murrelets. While forest practices have changed on federal lands managed by the Siuslaw National Forest, scientists warn that more needs to be done to protect murrelet habitat on state and private lands where logging practices continue to indiscriminately remove nesting habitat.

Expected Timeline: ODFW must acknowledge receipt of the petition within 10 working days, and determine within two years whether the marbled murrelet warrants “endangered” status. The Board of Forestry has 90 days to either begin rulemaking or deny the petition. 

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