Two Rulings Protect Rare Seabird

Marbled murrelets outmaneuver timber industry efforts to remove protections


 Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 33

Efforts by the timber industry and the Bush administration to lift protections for a rare West Coast seabird that nests only in old growth forests have been soundly rejected by two different courts.

A federal judge in Washington, DC, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals both ruled in favor of retaining federal Endangered Species Act protections for the marbled 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.

The rulings help retain protection not only for the birds but also for some of the last coastal old growth forests in California, Oregon, and Washington where the birds nest.

The timber industry and Coos County Oregon brought lawsuits seeking to remove protection for the birds in order to get access to log some of the last remaining old-growth forests. These groups argued that the murrelets were virtually the same as birds living in Canada and Alaska. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staffers found that the West Coast birds were a distinct population, warranting continued protection under the ESA, but were overruled by orders from Bush administration political appointees. Surveys conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey show the species is declining from Alaska to California.

“The timber industry has had its sights on this poor little bird for a decade,” said Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles who joined the litigation to defend the birds. “Saving our last marble murrelets means we need to save our coastal old growth forests.”

The rulings come as Bush administration officials continue to push a proposal to increase logging of murrelet habitat in old growth forests in western Oregon. Protection for the murrelets, as well as for northern spotted owls, stands in the way of this proposal.

Refusing to back down, the timber industry filed a fresh petition with the federal government a month ago asking it again to drop protection for the birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency says it is working on a response.

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 four to seven percent per year.

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.  

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