The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission today voted to revisit their decision to deny greater protections for the marbled murrelet. This decision comes months after a state circuit court ruling forced the commission to revisit its designation for the bird, which was triggered by an illegal reversal of the commission’s original vote to increase protections in 2016. Marbled murrelets are listed as threatened (under the state Endangered Species Act since 1995) and despite significant changes to the bird’s habitat – including the loss of nesting habitat due to ongoing logging – the commission has failed to consider stronger protections until now.
Quinn Read, Northwest Program Director for Defenders of Wildlife, issued this statement:
“Today, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission took a step in the right direction – both toward protecting marbled murrelets and restoring public trust. But we are in this situation because the commission did not follow Oregon law. As we move ahead, new commissioners should bear in mind that the decision to uplist is a matter of science and law – not compromise or politics. We are encouraged by the commission’s actions today, but we will continue to demand that they follow the science, respect public process and protect this bird for future generations.”
Marbled murrelet listing and threats
· The marbled murrelet is a small seabird that nests in old-growth and mature forests and forages at sea. Its population has declined dramatically in recent decades due to extensive logging in Oregon’s coast range.
· The murrelet was listed as threatened under the Oregon Endangered Species Act in 1995. However, Oregon has allowed intensive clear-cut logging to continue in marbled murrelet habitat on lands owned and regulated by the state.
· Uplisting the bird to endangered status would require the state to develop a management plan and survival guidelines, providing much-needed protections for the species.
Marbled murrelet litigation
· In August 2019, an Oregon circuit court judge ruled that the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission violated state law in denying a petition filed by Defenders of Wildlife, Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild, the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and Portland Audubon. These groups requested the commission uplist the murrelet from threatened to endangered under the Oregon Endangered Species Act. In her August ruling, Lane County Circuit Court Judge Lauren Holland concluded the Fish and Wildlife Commission had illegally changed its decision after first voting to accept the petition to list the murrelet as endangered.
· In 2016, these same groups petitioned the commission to uplist the marbled murrelet. The commission voted 4-2 in February of that year to accept the petition to increase the seabird’s protections, concluding the marbled murrelet was likely to go extinct in the foreseeable future.
· The commission then instructed the wildlife agency’s staff to begin the development of mandatory species survival guidelines as required under Oregon law. But the commission reversed itself without explanation and voted 4-2 in June 2016 to deny the petition it had accepted just four months earlier.
· In 2017, responding to the petition from conservation organizations, ODFW conducted a status review to assess the murrelet’s condition. The review demonstrated that murrelets need increased protections under the Oregon Endangered Species Act, due largely to the loss of nesting habitat from ongoing clear-cut logging on lands managed by the state of Oregon.