The timber industry began its courtroom campaign against the murrelet more than seven years ago. Big timber was given a huge assist in 2004 when the Fish and Wildlife Service was ordered by Julie MacDonald, a political appointee in the Bush Department of the Interior who recently resigned amid scandal over her bullying of agency scientists and political interference with biological decisions, to report that murrelets did not deserve protection in the lower-48 states. This finding reversed government scientists who had concluded the birds continued to need protection. Although currently under investigation by the Inspector General and Government Accounting Office, this last minute flip-flop formed the basis of the timber industry's lawsuit. Had the timber industry's lawsuit been successful, much of the murrelet's old-growth forest habitat would have been open for logging.
"The timber industry tried to play legal games with the fate of an entire species," said Josh Osborne-Klein with Earthjustice. "Thankfully, the court refused to order the extinction of the murrelet."
The marbled murrelet is a small seabird that nests in old growth forests along the Pacific Coast of North America. In 1992, the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the marbled murrelet population in Washington, Oregon, and California as a threatened species due to logging of its old growth habitat. Despite undisputed scientific evidence that murrelets are disappearing from the Pacific coast, the timber industry has set its sights on the small seabird in order to increase logging of trees over 100 years old.
"Unfortunately, the timber industry attack on marbled murrelets is far from over," said Noah Greenwald, a conservation biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Bush administration has a new proposal to slash protected murrelet habitat by almost 95 percent which may be finalized this spring, but we'll be ready to fight that, too."
Even with the current protections in place, government scientists estimate that the marbled murrelet population in Washington, Oregon, and California continues to decline at a rate of 4 to 7 percent per year. A recent U.S. Geological Survey report estimated that the murrelet population in British Columbia and Alaska is also at risk, declining by 70 percent over the last 25 years.
Represented by Earthjustice, the Audubon Society of Portland, Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Environmental Protection Information Center, Gifford Pinchot Task Force, Oregon Wild, Seattle Audubon Society, Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society intervened in the timber industry lawsuit to defend the murrelet.
Read the ruling (PDF)