Thanks to continued interest from Washington Audubon and Audubon chapters state-wide, the marbled murrelet has been gaining advocates who are passionate and committed to the conservation of this fascinating little seabird. The Marbled Murrelet is becoming a household word in the Pacific Northwest—no matter how you pronounce its last name.
The Marbled Murrelet is a robin-sized member of the alcid family which includes puffins, murres, guillemots, auklets, and other web-footed seabirds. The marbled murrelet spends ninety-five percent of its time at sea and comes inland only to nest and is the one and only species of alcid that nests in trees—specifically on the high, wide branches of towering conifers of the Pacific Northwest’s coastal forests. These forests occur on private land, tribal land, and federal land such as national parks and forests, but it’s the state-owned lands in western Washington where major decisions about this state- and federally- threatened species are being made right now. These decisions center on how to protect murrelet nesting habitat while also logging it. These seemingly mutually exclusive goals pit conservation groups against the timber industry groups and puts the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service somewhere in the middle.
The DNR manages 1.3 million acres of Marbled Murrelet habitat and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforces the laws of the Endangered Species Act. These two organizations have worked things out civilly, if not awkwardly, through a Habitat Conservation Plan and an interim Long-term Conservation Strategy—“interim” because when it was created in 1997, very little was known about the habitat needs of the marbled murrelet. The plan was to update the strategy when more scientific research was available.
We knew much by 2004 when the DNR commissioned a report by the leading murrelet scientists and even more by 2008 when the Science Team Report was published. The report’s recommendations were, alas, more conservative than the DNR had hoped and were clearly not aligned with their obligation to generate logging revenue for a variety of beneficiaries, including state schools, hospitals, and timber-dependent counties. And so the delay in creating a Long-Term Conservation Strategy continued.
Finally, in 2012, the DNR began the process of developing a Long-Term Conservation Strategy for the Marbled Murrelet—one that will remain in effect until 2067. The public is part of this process and the Audubon community has been engaged from the beginning—Washington Audubon and local chapters have made murrelet conservation a priority. Members of the Audubon community speak out regularly and strongly on behalf of the Marbled Murrelet. This advocacy is vital in ensuring that the DNR’s Long-Term Conservation Strategy is actually a conservation strategy—one that makes a significant contribution to the recovery of the Marbled Murrelet.
In November 2014, the DNR presented to the Board of Natural Resources its Analytical Framework for objectively evaluating the various proposed conservation strategies. The framework is a mathematical model explained (though perhaps not understood) over a mere fifty-five PowerPoint slides. Despite the highly technical presentation, the conservation community provided thoughtful input on the material. Members of Black Hills, Tahoma, and Seattle Audubon chapters, the Washington Forest Law Center, Sierra Club, Olympic Forest Coalition, and the Murrelet Survival Project all offered public comment aimed at creating a better balance between the survival needs of the marbled murrelet and the financial needs of the trust beneficiaries. Of great concern is the DNR’s plan to develop its Sustainable Harvest Calculation for 2015-2024 in parallel with the long-overdue Long-Term Conservation Strategy, a plan that draws into question the meaning of both “sustainable” and “conservation.”
Tomorrow, January 6, the DNR will present Part 2 of its Analytical Framework at the monthly public meeting of the Board of Natural Resources. With Board approval, the framework will be applied to all the conservation strategy options and a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) will be issued. This is when members of Audubon chapters across the state will have a chance to help DNR determine if the probable adverse environmental impacts as well as the mitigation measures for those impacts have been satisfactorily identified.
This is a long, complex, and fraught process that leaves participants overwhelmed and exhausted. Did we think managing an ecosystem would be easy? The future of the marbled murrelet and of our coastal forests rely on your support. Your presence at meetings, written comments, and/or two-to-three minute oral comments during upcoming public meetings are vitally important to this species and to the continued biodiversity of Earth’s ecosystems.
January 6th: 9 a.m. Board of Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. SE Room 172 Olympia. If you plan to speak, arrive a few minutes early to sign in. Warm bodies are good, too.
To view materials presented at upcoming and past meetings, click here and scan down.