Salem, Oregon: The Oregon Department of State Lands says Elliott State Forest no longer produces enough revenue to even manage it, much less fund public education through timber sales because of marbled murrelets. Therefore, in a controversial move made Tuesday, the state has decided to sell off three parcels totalling 2,728 acres (3% of the entire forest) that include known marbled murrelet nesting habitat and potential nesting habitat.
Because the murrelets are a federally threatened and also state-threatened species in Oregon, the presence of marbled murrelets on these parcels in the Elliott State Forest devalues the land for timber sales--from $22.1 to $3.6 million, according to the assessment by timber cruisers. This low value will allow private timber companies to bid on the parcels at bargain prices and reap a huge profit given that Endangered Species Act protections designed to prevent "take" of murrelets or destruction of their nesting habitat are difficult to enforce on privately owned forests. Some say the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency responsible for enforcing the ESA protections, seems willing to turn a blind eye when habitat is on private land.
While the potential logging of these three parcels might seem insignificant, the decision sets a shameful precedent for forest management and shows infantile stubbornness against making critical steps toward de-linking school funding from timber harvest. And it's bad news for a federally threatened seabird whose populations are declining steadily and rapidly primarily because of the loss of its nesting habitat--the mature and old-growth forests like those in Elliott State Forest.
Olympia, Washington: The December 3 meeting of the Washington State Board of Natural Resources heard from the Department of Natural Resources that it received 1,975 comment letters on its proposed alternatives for its Long-Term Conservation Strategy for the Marbled Murrelet in the state forests it manages for this species. These comments will be used by the DNR and USFWS to prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement in early 2014. There will be public meetings and opportunities for the public to provide written comment on this draft before Fall 2014.
And...last night's Science Cafe of Olympia featured the energetic and articulate UW engineer and energy researcher Brian Polagye, who discussed tidal energy turbines and the potential impacts of these structures on marine wildlife--mammals, fish, and birds--including the marbled murrelet. It seems that when most of us think of turbines in the marine environment, we think "sushi." Polagye explained how his research is addressing potential impacts of turbines--not only blade strikes but also sound disturbance. Through a very large array of detectors deployed in Admiralty Inlet, for instance, initial studies show no mortality to marine life from a single turbine--the blades rotate slowly (slower than you'd imagine) and fish tended to swim around the structues. There is very little data on hearing in fish and seabirds so the issue of sound disturbance is harder to address.
Admirably, Polagye's work is being conducted in the early phase of tidal turbine development--before turbines are actually installed and during pilot-scale projects so engineering solutions can be introduced to avoid or mitigate negative impacts before installations are scaled up.
Polagye fielded numerous questions from a SRO crowd, which included a large number of engineers and fans of Star Wars. I am neither, but found this lecture fascinating, clearly presented, and--for now--good news for energy, the marbled murrelet, and thinking ahead.