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Marbled Murrelet

Protecting the Marbled Murrelet in Washington State

Updated October 2019


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 final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Marbled Murrelet Long-Term Conservation Strategy (LTCS) in September 2019. The Board of Natural Resources is scheduled to vote on their preffered LTCS based on Alernative H in December. Independent scientists and experts from two government agencies proposed alternatives that would conserve two to five times as many acres of murrelet-specific habitat as Alternative H. Their science tells us that the strategy the Board of Natural Resources plans to adopt will not help meet the biological goals for the Marbled Murrelet as it simply do not set aside enough contiguous older forest habitat to allow our state’s Marbled Murrelet populations to stabilize and recover.


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.  They must not vote to adopt Alternative H on December 2 but, rather, they should delay the vote until all of the information is available and fully reviewed and considerd by the entire BNR. The future of the Marbled Murrelet in Washington State depends on it.

Sample Letter - Submit to

Dear Commissioner Franz and Board of Natural Resources Members:

As a supporter of Seattle Audubon, it is important to me that the Department of Natural Resources manages our public forest lands responsibly and takes seriously its responsibility to protect threatened and endangered species. I am concerned by the Board’s proposed incidental take permit amendment for the Marbled Murrelet, based on Long-Term Conservation Strategy H.

Independent scientists and experts from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have recommended much more expansive conservation measures (Alternatives F and G) than the Board’s preferred alternative. Their science tells us that Alternative H isn’t sufficient to recover the Marbled Murrelet population in Washington State. I urge the Board to delay its December 2 vote on this matter until all board members have had time to read in full and discuss at length the Final Environmental Impact Statement as well as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion, which has yet to be published.

This is a complex issue with many environmental, social, and economic facets. While the Conservation Strategy centers around the Marbled Murrelet, its consequences are far reaching. Young people are judging us by the investments we are making, or failing to make, in their futures, including clean air, clean water, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity. Please refrain from voting for Alternative H and reconsider other options that have a higher likelihood of better outcomes for birds and people.​


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Additional Resources:

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.

Because Marbled Murrelets nest in old-growth forest, they face some of the same pressures as the Northern Spotted Owl.  In 1992 they were listed by the Federal Government as a Threatened species. In 1993 Washington State listed them as Threatened.

Since 1997, Marbled Murrelets have been under an “interim strategy” for long-term conservation on state-managed land in Washington, sighting limited data for decision making. Since 1997, scientific reports have filled this data gap, and documented the Marbled Murrelet’s continued decline and conservation opportunities:


Learn more about Marbled Murrelets on


In 2010 Seattle Audubon successfully defeated the Radar Ridge Wind Energy proposal that would have had significant negative impact on the Marbled Murrelet.
However, Marbled Murrelet populations continue to decline by 7% per year (Status and Trend of Nesting Habitat for the Marbled Murrelet by Pearson, S.F., M.G. Raphael, M.M. Lance, and T. D. Bloxton, Jr. 2011) and Seattle Audubon is committed to Marbled Murrelet recovery through protection and enhancement of State of Washington Marbled Murrelet habitat.

Court rejects effort to de-list Murrelet and eliminate critical habitat
In March 2013, a federal court ruled in favor of retaining the ESA listing for Marbled Murrelets and continued protection of critical habitat.  Seattle Audubon, Portland Audubon and several other conservation groups are intervenors.

Hear about Marbled Murrelet from BirdNote!

BirdNote Interview with Martin Raphael

BirdNote on Marbled Murrelets

Court rejects DNR's effort to log 12,000+ acres of HCP protected habitat

On May 1, 2012, The Washington State Board of Natural Resources (BNR) approved a "minor" amendment to the HCP, opening 12,000+ acres of Marbled Murrelet habitat to logging without adequate environmental review. Seattle Audubon and the Olympic Forest Coalition sued the State of Washington for approving this "minor" amendment.

In July 2013, King County Superior Court Judge Heller ruled that the Washington 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.



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