Protecting the Marbled Murrelet in Washington State
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.
DNR is preparing a Long-term Conservation Strategy (LTCS), 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.
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.