What Managing Murrelets Looks Like

This is the poetic version of what managing Marbled Murrelets looks like; a word cloud of the most-often used terms in the 1997 Recovery Plan for this federally threatened seabird:

All good words but words whose meaning(s) we have not yet agreed on. We struggle toward meaning, but seem to end up in court battling out the particulars. We are not sure who is responsible for making these words mean something to the marbled murrelet--something or some action that will slow its decline and set it on a path toward recovery.

Words fail us and, ultimately, the marbled murrelet. This is a numbers game it turns out. A lot of numbers, a lot of calculations, a lot of measuring things that may or may not be measurable. In Washington State where I live, we are struggling with a lot of numbers that will ultimately inform a Long-term Conservation Strategy for the murrelets that occupy (or could occupy) certain forest that are managed by our Department of Natural Resources. This strategy will replace the one (the inadequate one) adopted in 1997.

Why has it taken so long? For many reasons--some understandable, some inexcusable. And because, when it comes down to it, it looks like this:

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This is just one of the PowerPoint slides prepared by the Department of Natural Resources (with assist from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) for the June 7 meeting of the Board of Natural Resources--the board that oversees the work on the Long-Term Conservation Strategy. The entire presentation can be viewed here. It is worth looking at if only to get a sense of the complexity of marbled murrelet management.

The meeting is open to the public. The meeting room will be crowded with members of conservation community, representatives of the timber industry, western Washington county commissioners, and many who fall into a large group of people representing the "trust beneficiaries." The sale of timber (marbled murrelet nesting habitat in many cases) generates revenue for our state public institutions--schools, universities, and hospitals among them. There are a lot of smart people in the room--and on the board itself. But few people (myself included) will be able to follow the math and understand exactly (or even generally, conceptually, or vaguely) what it means for the forest and the murrelet. 

On and off, I have been attending the monthly Board of Natural Resources meetings for three years now. I should be able to follow along. I should know what the charts, graphs, discounts, p-stage values are. But I don't. 

I should know what the words "recover" and "stabilize" and "protect" mean. But I don't.

We are all trusting a very few very smart people to choose the numbers and the words. My hope is that--zero through 9 and A to Z--we find the best numbers and words. The best to prove that yes we can do right by the murrelets, the forests, and our future.

Tomorrow's meeting in Olympia will be long. The address and agenda can be found here