For Immediate Release

Conservation Groups Challenge Oregon for Failing to Protect Marbled Murrelet Habitat

Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, 314-482-3746
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, 503-484-7495
Steve Pedery, Oregon Wild, 503-283-6343 ext. 212
Bob Sallinger, Portland Audubon, 503-380-9728

 

Eugene, OR -- SEPT 30, 2016

Four conservation organizations filed suit today against the Oregon Board of Forestry over dismissal of a petition requesting the Board identify and protect important old-growth forest areas for the marbled murrelet, a seabird threatened with extinction.  Under Oregon law, the Board was supposed to have provided such protection after the seabird was protected as threatened under the state Endangered Species Act in 1987.  

“The state of Oregon is obligated to protect its threatened wildlife, and it is not doing that with this unique seabird,” said Nick Cady, legal director at Cascadia Wildlands. “It is way past time that protection measures for the species are instituted, otherwise the marbled murrelet will go the way of the passenger pigeon.” 
 
On Sept. 9 the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission granted a similar petition. The two agencies are required to work together to facilitate murrelet recovery and develop protection measures for occupied sites.  

The marbled murrelet was first listed as a threatened species in Oregon in 1987, and the listing of a species requires the Board of Forestry to conduct an inventory of species’ sites and develop rules to protect the sites from harmful forestry activities.  Clearcut logging of the murrelets’ nesting habitat on state and private forestlands in Oregon is the primary cause of the species decline.

“For the last thirty years, Oregon’s plan for marbled murrelets has been to look the other way while their habitat is clear-cut,” said Steve Pedery, conservation director at Oregon Wild. “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.”

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 habitat that they depend on. Instead the state has relied on the nesting habitat located on nearby federal forestlands. This is no longer sufficient as murrelet populations in the Pacific Northwest continue to decline, and a recent status review conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that conservation of nesting habitat on state and private lands is now critical to the species’ survival.

The Board of Forestry's decision to not even consider a petition to identify and protect old growth habitat for Marbled Murrelets once again demonstrates the board's indifference towards the plight of Marbled Murrelets and other old growth dependents species," said Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director for Audubon Society of Portland. "The Board has been ignoring its obligations under both state and federal law for decades even as the Marbled Murrelets numbers continue to plummet."

Murrelets fly inland from the ocean to nest on wide, mossy limbs found in the mature and old-growth forests of the Oregon Coast Range. A recent decision to ramp up clearcut logging of murrelet nesting habitat on Bureau of Land Management lands in western Oregon coupled with the state of Oregon’s proposal to privatize the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest located, east of Coos Bay, underscore the need to develop habitat protections. A recent murrelet monitoring report produced by the U.S. Forest Service stressed the urgent need to “arrest the loss of suitable habitat on all lands, especially on non-federal lands in the relatively near term.”

“The Board of Forestry's management of the old-growth forests needed by the marbled murrelet and cherished by Oregonians across the political spectrum has been abysmal,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Board of Forestry and Gov. Kate Brown have a legal and moral responsibility to protect murrelets and their forest habitat, and need to take action to reverse the decline of the 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.