A Looming Threat To Oldgrowth Forests
The Attack on Marbled Murrelet Protections
The Department of the Interior (DOI) under the Bush administration is pushing to remove federal endangered species protection for Marbled Murrelets.
The Washington, Oregon, and California Marbled Murrelets have been listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) since 1992. The population has been plummeting ever since.
The Headwaters Deal and the “Habitat Conservation Plan”
Headwaters Grove and several other old-growth redwood stands were bought with public tax dollars ($420,000,000) from the notorious Maxxam-owned Pacific Lumber Company (PL). Additional thousands of acres were set aside for 50 years in Marbled Murrelet Conservation Areas (MMCA’s) as part of a so-called “Habitat Conservation Plan” (HCP). Their pseudo-science claimed that enough M. Murrelet habitat had been protected for the species to escape extinction. PL was issued a permit to destroy M. Murrelet nesting grounds and other M. Murrelet habitat on the rest of their property.
The groves in the MMCAs now comprise some of the best remaining M. Murrelet habitat in Humboldt County. It is possibly even higher quality than oldgrowth in state and county parks, where human visitors attract ravens and crows, natural predators of M. Murrelet eggs and chicks. Predation is the second threat to the M. Murrelet after oldgrowth logging (habitat loss)
Oldgrowth Logging Continues
After the Headwaters Deal many M. Murrelet nesting groves where cut. Under Pacific Lumbers newly acquired HCP the unprotected M. Murrelet nesting areas were designated “class E”. The designation “class D” was given to mature and oldgrowth groves that scientists said were high quality habitat but assumed to be unoccupied. These groves varied in size and were scattered throughout PLs land holdings.
FWS has so far released 914.9 acres,(52%) of “class E” stands to be logged, leaving 836.6 acres (48%) remaining as of November 29, 2005, (there was 1,751 acres of E total)
Out of the 2, 300 acres of “ class D” slated to be cut under the HCP approximately 651 acres (28%) have been logged, leaving 1, 648 acres (72%) remaining as of November 29, 2005.
Big Timber Advocates on the March
In 2002 a timber industry lobbying group, American Forest Resource Council, (AFRC) filed a lawsuit to compel FWS to review the M. Murrelet’s status and to eliminate the designation of critical habitat on public lands. The AFRC sought to open M. Murrelet habitat for logging by getting the FWS to delist the bird. FWS did not to resist the lawsuit and signed a settlement with AFRC agreeing to complete the status review. Independent scientists were hired to do the work.
When the status report came out, it said that the tri-state population was distinct from Canada and Alaska and that the murrelet still needed to be protected under the ESA. But the DOI overruled them, reversing the conclusion to say that the population was not genetically distinct and therefore was going to be delisted.
'… the administration earlier this month dismissed advice from field scientists and decided that murrelets were wrongly protected.
"It seems like the logic they [the agency] used to come up with their interpretation was a little fuzzy," said Tom Hamer, one of independent scientists the government had hired to review the Northwest seabirds.
"Some have taken the point of view that you should be extremely liberal in listing species," Craig Manson (DOI) said. "For me, it should be a last resort. It comes with a set of collateral costs for society. If we can avoid those, we should." '
Seattle Times - September 27, 2004
Status Review Makes Dire Predictions
The 2004 status report on the Marbled Murrelets released by Fish and Wildlife says the birds have a 0% chance of extinction before 2044, but then the probability skyrockets to over 80% by the year 2060. Under current regulations (with the exception of loopholes) the MMCAs will be open again for logging in the year 2032. This increases to 100% probability of extinction in 100 years. That is, taking into account “the potential removal of hundreds of acres of suitable murrelet habitat.” - -status review.
“the principal factor affecting the marbled murrelet in the 3-state area (Oregon, California and Washington) and the main cause of population decline has been the loss of older forests and the associated nest sites.”
“In California…consultations [like PL’s HCP] involve the potential removal of hundreds of acres of suitable murrelet habitat. Potential habitat loss from service consultations [like USFWS] with state and private entities [like PL] encompasses the largest percent of habitat that would be lost or modified over time”
-FWS 5 year murrelet status review evaluation report (page 6-30)
Proposal Expected Soon
The proposal to delist the Marbled Murrelet was rumored to be released by the end of this month (Dec. 05’) but it’s likely to take longer. After that there will be a review process with some public comment that will probably last for at least a year. Hopefully there will be lawsuits filed that can at least stall this process. If the M. Murrelets are delisted, there is a strong possibility that Maxxam/PL will be allowed to log in the MMCAs.
From the document titled “ Final Environmental Impact Statement/ Environmental Impact Report”: 7.2.3. Amendment of the Permit to Allow Covered Activities Within MMCAs
“…If PALCO concludes that the delisting criteria (excluding marine management criteria) contained in the Murrelet Recovery Plan as it then exists have been met, PALCO may apply for an amendment to the Federal Permit and State Permit to allow harvest activities within one or more of the MMCAs….”.