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State's Long-Term Conservation Plan For Marbled Murrelet Open For Public Comment

A marbled murrelet, with its characteristic nest, perched atop a thick branch high up in the canopy of an old-growth tree.

The conservation strategy for an enigmatic sea bird could chart the future of our state-owned forests.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Washington Department of Natural Resources are taking commentson the latest set of management options. All aim to balance logging revenue with steps to save the marbled murrelet.

The federally-listed species is a robin-sized, diving seabird that flies more than 50 miles inland to nest. It’s threatened and needs wide branches in old-growth trees to successfully reproduce. And it could have a huge impact on how we manage state forests.

A revised draft environmental impact statement outlines seven alternatives for long-term management of state forests to protect the old-growth trees where marbled murrelets nest. The main differences among the alternatives are in how much buffer there is around those old growth areas, as well as how much is allocated for future growth.

Conservationists want as much habitat as possible to be protected. Maria Ruth is with Black Hills Audubon Society in Olympia.  

“We have lost in Washington state 44 percent of our murrelets since 2001. And to have a local extinction, on our watch, is just unacceptable,” Ruth says.

But many in the logging community say the habitat in state owned forests is just one of many factors affecting the bird, which spends much of its life on the ocean and flies as far as 50 miles inland to nest. They say the state has equal obligations to the communities that depend on revenue from state-owned forests that would be diminished by new set-asides.

Matt Comisky is the Washington Manager of the American Forest Resource Council. He says the state needs to find the right balance between meeting its obligations under the Endangered Species Act and its constitutional mandate to provide trust revenue to rural communities.   

“Many people’s jobs, livlihoods, the ability to buy a fire truck, library books, those type of things really ultimately hinge on this process that’s going to play out over the next 12 to 18 months,” Comisky says.  

His organization favors the management option that some conservation groups say would lead to extinction of the marbled murrelet. Comisky counters that the factors affecting the bird’s survival extend beyond state forest lands.

Both sides are urging the public to get involved by studying the management alternatives and submitting feedback to the agencies involved. The current revised draft Environmental Impact Statement came about because of thousands of comments received on the initial document, which now has two additional management options.

The long-term conservation strategy is to replace the current interim regulation, which was put in place as a temporary measure in 1997, at which time the scientific community lacked sufficient information about the lifestyle of the bird because of its unusual and elusive nesting behavior, so far from the marine environment where it feeds. 

Four public meetingson the new draft EIS will take place next month andcomments on the draft are open through Nov. 6.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to