Protecting the Marbled Murrelet in Washington State
Updated May 2017
This endangered seabird feeds in the ocean and flies up to 55 miles inland to nest in old growth forest. The Washington state population of this unique bird has shrunk by 44% over the last 15 years, leaving only about 7,500 birds remaining. Learn about the Marbled Murrelet on BirdWeb.
The Department of the Natural Resources (DNR) and the Long-term Conservation Strategy
Statewide, the DNR manages approximately two million acres of land. 29-47% of DNR’s forests that are within 55 miles of salt water are critical to Marbled Murrelets. These state-owned forests are either classified as habitat occupied by nesting Marbled Murrelets, are buffers around that habitat, or are biologically-important potential recovery habitat.
Unfortunately, most Marbled Murrelet nesting habitat on private lands has been logged. Though many of our older forests on federal lands are protected as parks (Olympic, North Cascades, and Mount Rainier National Parks, for example), many of these forests are too far from the Pacific Ocean and Puget Sound where the Marbled Murrelets spend most of their lives. The closer proximity of the DNR-managed forests in certain areas of the state, such as Southwest Washington, make these forests particularly important. Virtually all scientists agree that, based on their location and age, many of DNR’s older forests are biologically significant for the survival and recovery of Marbled Murrelets in Washington. For decades, scientists have concurred that the loss of nesting habitat is the primary reason for the decline in Marbled Murrelet populations. Ocean conditions are also a factor, but a significantly less important factor than nesting habitat.
The Department of Natural Resources released their draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Marbled Murrelet Long-Term Conservation Strategy (LTCS) in December of 2016, as required by DNR’s 1997 federal Habitat Conservation Plan. In 2010, DNR informally rejected the 2008 Science Team Report and developed their own set of alternative conservation strategies. Of the six alternatives, only one (Alternative F) was based on a formal science-based process. The projections for all six alternatives show a continued population decline for the bird. The proposed alternatives simply do not set aside enough contiguous older forest habitat to allow our state’s Marbled Murrelet populations to stabilize and recover.
The Conservation Alternative: Using the Best Available Science
A coalition of environmental groups is proposing a new Conservation Alternative, which will be the only alternative designed to make long-term contributions to Marbled Murrelet conservation and to timber-industry sustainability in our state.
Just recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) came to the very same conclusion that we did -- none of the existing alternatives will adequately protect the Marbled Murrelet and a new conservation alternative is needed. The new alternative must better protect habitat in the Strait of Juan De Fuca, create adequate buffer zones around old growth forest, and limit timber harvest on DNR lands.
We encourage you to tell Commissioner of Public Lands, Hilary Franz, and the other Board of Natural Resource members that you want them to support the strongest environmental protections possible for our old growth forests and for the Marbled Murrelet. Additionally, please request that they revise the outdated funding mechanism that pressures Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to harvest large amounts of timber to fund school construction and rural counties and pits environmental protection against other interests. The future of the Marbled Murrelet in Washington State depends on it.
Dear Commissioner Franz and Board of Natural Resources Members:
The current range of alternatives in the Marbled Murrelet LTCS draft EIS does not provide adequate protection to ensure the survival of the marbled murrelet into the future. I urge you to fully analyze the Conservation Alternative put forth by the Murrelet Survival Project coalition.
Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) have stated that the existing alternatives do not adequately protect this imperiled species. Both agencies recommend the creation and analysis of a more robust conservation alternative that protects special habitat areas for Marbled Murrelets, preserves significant habitat in the Strait of Juan De Fuca, creates adequate buffer zones and limits the harvest of old growth forest on DNR lands.
While I recognize that Board of Natural Resources is under considerable pressure to continue the harvest of timber on DNR lands because it provides funding for school construction and rural counties, I recommend the Board also use this as an opportunity to fundamentally change what is an outdated funding mechanism that has the harmful effect of pitting the protection of the environment against other interests. The DNR Trust Board should replace it with one that guides rural communities to use their natural resources sustainably by creating green jobs, green industries, and ecotourism.
Earlier Murrelet Work
July 2014 - The Seattle Audubon Society and the Olympic Forest Coalition lose court battle to protect high quality habitat for the Marbled Murrelet. Read the letter from the Conservation Committee addressing the issue.
April 2014 - Seattle Audubon enters into litigation to prevent the Washington Department of Natural Resources from logging scientifically recognized and important Marbled Murrelet habitat on the Olympic Peninsula.
October 2013 - Seattle Audubon Board of Directors adopts Marbled Murrelet Conservation Resolution.
September 2013 - U.S. District Court Judge John Bates in Washington, D.C. rejected a timber industry bid to eliminate Endangered Species Act protections for the Marbled Murrelet which would have allowed the expansion of logging in the seabird’s old-growth forest nesting habitat.
July 2013 - King County Superior Court's Judge Heller ruled that the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) violated the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) by prematurely attempting to allow logging on lands that have been protected for consideration in a long term conservation plan.