The Jefferson County Democrats adopted, on Tuesday, a resolution urging the Board of Natural Resources to adopt the strongest of the alternatives it is considering for protection of marbled murrelet habitat. As a federally listed threatened species, the murrelet is protected on federal lands, but not on private lands. The bird has been protected on state trust lands under an interim conservation strategy since 1997, years before most research on the murrelet’s ecological requirements took place.
“The state’s own scientists showed in 2008 that this threatened species is still declining because of our logging practices,” said Bruce Cowan, Chair of the Jefferson County Democrats. “If this species is going to survive, we can’t just keep cutting the trust lands where these birds nest.”
The meeting followed a presentation by Kevin Schmelzlen of the Murrelet Survival Project. Not until 1974 did scientists discover that, unlike any other seabird, the murrelet nests in forests, flying as far as fifty miles inland to nest on large branches high in old growth forests. Breeding pairs switch places daily, with one parent feeding on small fish while the other incubates their single egg.
The Washington State Board of Natural Resources is currently considering five alternatives for habitat protection on state trust lands. According to Shmelzlen, only Alternative E responds to the 2008 Science Report, developed by researchers for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The issue of murrelet habitat conservation has been contentious. In 2013, the courts halted a DNR approved harvest of 12,000 acres of timber in Southwest Washington. The Forest Resources Council, an advocate for the timber industry, was unsuccessful in its attempt to have the murrelet de-listed as a threatened species.
“We’ve waited long enough for action,” said Cowan. “Adopting a clear policy based on the 2008 Science Report will make it easier for DNR to do its work. With fewer lawsuits, the flow of timber revenues to state and local governments will be more predictable,” said Cowan. “The set aside is not huge, and it could save a species from extinction.”
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