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Feds Reaffirm Critical Habitat for Marbled Murrelet in Ore.

There are about 1,100 Marbled Murrelets left in Oregon, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service numbers from 2014. (Martin Raphael/U.S. Forest Service)
There are about 1,100 Marbled Murrelets left in Oregon, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service numbers from 2014. (Martin Raphael/U.S. Forest Service)
August 4, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. — After a year-long review of more than 1.5 million acres of critical habitat for the marbled murrelet in Oregon, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the habitat is still integral to the species' long-term survival.

The marbled murrelet, a small, potato-shaped seabird that nests in old-growth forests along the Northwest coast, was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1992.

Elizabeth Materna, public affairs specialist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said the decision won't hurt the interests of private landowners on the coast.

"Fish and Wildlife Services continues to find collaborative solutions to conserving wildlife resources while also supporting strong local economy,” Materna said.

Responding to litigation and the redefining of the term "critical habitat," Fish and Wildlife conducted a voluntary review in 2015 of more than 3.5 million acres of critical habitat in Oregon, Washington, and California. Most of the designated critical habitat is located on federal land.

According to Fish and Wildlife numbers from 2014, there are about 11,000 marbled murrelets - also known as Fog Larks - in Oregon. Nick Cady, legal director at the environmental group Cascadia Wildlands, said the species is very sensitive to any fragmentation of its habitat, especially from logging, which puts the small bird at great risk of predation.

"The huge, concerning thing with the marbled murrelet,” Cady said, “is that, while their numbers have relatively remained steady over the past, I believe 5 to 10 years, the truly alarming thing is that there's an incredible lack of juveniles, which shows that the species is not really breeding anymore."

Although the reaffirmation of critical habitat by Fish and Wildlife was a win for the murrelet, Cady said it may not be as significant as it seemed at first glance. The Fish and Wildlife Service looks at habitats on a large scale, he said. So it can offer small portions of land to private interests without significant loss to the total acreage protected. But small parcels of critical habitat, if left unprotected, could have big consequences for species such as the murrelet.

"Numerous court rulings over the past decade have upheld this ability of Fish and Wildlife to analyze adverse impacts to critical habitat based on these enormous scales,” Cady said. “And that has effectively gutted any practical benefits to critical habitat designations."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR