Marbled Murrelet

Marbled Murrelet felt and fiber art by Suzanne Moulton.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission is being sued by multiple conservation groups for its failure to uplist the marbled murrelet from threatened to endangered during a June meeting.

The announcement came Thursday through a press release in which the conservation groups claim the commission board neglected to base its decision on documented and verifiable science.

In the June meeting, the board voted 4-2 to not uplist and delayed adopting any survival guidelines until its Aug. 3 meeting. The vote came as a surprise since the board had accepted the petitioner’s earlier recommendation to reclassify the small seabirds in February and then directed ODFW staff members to draft survival guidelines and prepare for the appropriate rulemaking.

ODFW commission board chairman Mike Finley referenced an Oregon State University study, which is a 10-year-long project that is monitoring and researching the breeding ecology of marbled murrelets in coastal Oregon forest lands. He pointed out that the study is still in its beginning stages and wanted to wait until further information was released about how the species is actually doing. The board also cited conflicting accounts of actual population numbers of the murrelets.

In its press release, the conservation groups claim the board had caved to pressure put on by the logging industry to reverse its decision. The groups have been working the ODFW commission in changing the murrelet’s conversation status for about two years and following procedures under the Oregon Endangered Species Act.

“The Commission’s reversal of its decision to uplist the marbled murrelet just four months earlier ignored science, the law and ODFW’s mission to protect Oregon’s imperiled wildlife,” said Nick Cady, legal director at Cascadia Wildlands. “The reversal demonstrates this Commission’s active neglect of its duties toward imperiled species, and disappointingly, leaves the marbled murrelet on a path toward extinction in Oregon.”

The commission board heard from over 30 people from throughout the state many of which were members of timber industry groups and county officials including Coos County Commissioner John Sweet. The main concern from the testimonies in June centered on timber harvesting and its economic survival under tighter restrictions and regulations to protect the murrelets.

Associated Oregon Loggers executive vice president Jim Geisinger said he agreed with the board decision to not uplist citing the same OSU study mentioned by Finley during his final remarks.  

“There is a lot of ongoing research that the commission should wait and find out what it shows before they make a decision that can be as economically damaging at this one,” said Geisinger. “OSU is in the middle of a very intensive, multiyear research project to identify population trends and true habitat needs of the marbled murrelet.”

The Associated Oregon Loggers is a statewide trade association representing about 1,000 companies in its membership who are concerned sustainable forest management, some of which are in Coos County.

Co-founder and forest engineer Ron Stuntzner of Stuntzner Engineering and Forestry in Coos Bay said he also agreed with the ODFW commission on their decision to not uplist. According to Stuntzner, the board should wait until more data is released in regards to the study by OSU.

The marbled murrelet spends most of its life at sea, but does nest in older forests and flies inland up to 50 miles. The birds will lay its eggs in moss, lichen or large tree limbs or tree litter. In both Washington and California the birds are classified as endangered.

The status review submitted by ODFW staff in February citied multiple peer-review studies which showed the birds has an 80 percent chance of going extinct by 2060 along Oregon’s central and northern coast.

The groups represented by attorneys from the Cascadia Wildlands and the Center for Biological Diversity also claim the board didn’t adequately explain its decision nor did it give enough notice to the public or the petitioners to weigh in on its reversal to uplist the murrelet. In addition, they are arguing the board’s decision to not uplist isn’t supported by sustainable evidence in the record.

ODFW staff refused to comment on the matter while the lawsuit is still ongoing. The commission is scheduled to meet Aug. 3 in regards to adopting the revised survival guidelines for the marbled murrelet. The guidelines are meant to encourage the preservation of nesting habitats and reduce predator and human interaction for those operating on state-owned or leased lands. These guidelines are voluntary and companies will not be required to follow if the board approves.

An attempt to reach out to Roseburg Forest Products Company was also made, but a response was not returned by press time.

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