Conservation is for the birds

The marbled murrelet is officially considered endangered in Oregon

Rachel Unger // The Torch

On Friday, Feb. 9, Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Commission voted in favor of reclassifying the marbled murrelet, a small, brown-spotted seabird that lives along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to central California, as an endangered species under the Oregon Endangered Species Act. The decision marks the start of a recovery plan for the marbled murrelet.

According to its website, Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Commission aims “to protect and enhance Oregon’s fish and wildlife and their habitats.” The OFWC commissioners met in Portland and voted 4-2 to support a proposal made in June of 2016 by six environmental groups: the Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Coast Range Forest Watch, the Oregon Wild, the Audubon Society of Portland and the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Bob Sallinger, the conservation director of the Audubon Society of Portland, said that the non-profit organization had played a major role in petitioning for Oregon to list the marbled murrelet as state-endangered during the late-80s and early-90s.

“Washington and California have recently recognized that the marbled murrelet is endangered,” he said. “Oregon was last to follow suit.”

The petition states that the marbled murrelet, which was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1992 and the Oregon Endangered Species Act in 1995, forages and feeds in coastal waters, but nests and raises its young in unfragmented, old forests.

Although the seabird’s marine habitat has also been harmed in recent years due to overfishing, oil spills and changing oceanographic conditions from climate change, the petition explains, the high rates of logging in Oregon over the past 150 years has been an especially significant factor driving the marbled murrelet toward extinction, the petition states. The petition adds that logging has left Oregon with only a small percentage of forests fit for marbled murrelet to live and breed in.

“Oregon has done a really dismal job with protecting older forests that are under jurisdiction and private timberlands,” Sallinger said. “When we’re looking at science literature, there’s really no question that the primary concern right now is how we’re continuing to log these forests on state and private lands.”

If steps are not taken immediately to allow the bird as well as logged areas to recover, Sallinger added, it is likely that the marbled murrelet will go extinct within the next 80 years.

In Sept. of 2017, the OFWC drafted a status report stating that factors like timber harvests and fires, combined with the “narrow habitat requirements and limited geographic distribution” of the bird have destroyed much of its habitat. From 1993 to 2012, there has been a net loss of 78,600 acres of Oregonian forests fit for murrelet habitat. As a result, nesting success for the bird has been about only 36 percent and the ratio of young to old murrelets has been declining.

On its website, the OFWC explains that uplisting the marbled murrelet from threatened to endangered will “[a]ffect some lands owned, managed, and leased by state agencies but will have no direct impacts on private landowners.”

In addition, the OFWC staff will begin working on “guidelines for state-owned, managed, and leased funds” to protect the marbled murrelet species. The rulemaking process to adopt these survival guidelines will take place in the Commission meeting this coming June.