31 Oct Comments on Marbled Murrelet Long-Term Conservation Strategy due December 6
***Note 11/1/18: Comments on the Revised Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Long-Term Conservation Strategy are now due 12/6/18
Marbled murrelets are seabirds about the size of a robin, related to puffins, and some might say they are similar in shape to a potato. A majority of their lives are spent out at sea, where they feed on small fish and crustaceans. The nesting behavior of marbled murrelets was a mystery until 1974 when the first nest was discovered. These birds do not build a nest, but instead lay one egg on a mossy limb of an old growth conifer.
To provide suitable nesting habitat for marbled murrelets, trees need to have old growth characteristics such as large, mossy branches and other deformities that can be used as nesting platforms. Generally it takes forests at least 100 years to develop these characteristics. While raising chicks, murrelets must return to the sea nightly to forage for food, therefore mature forests must also be located within 55 miles of marine waters to be suitable as nesting habitat. This unique nesting behavior inescapably binds the fate of marbled murrelets with the fate of mature and old growth forests.
What is the Long Term Conservation Strategy and why is it important for marbled murrelets?
Due to past forest mismanagement and extensive clear-cutting, coastal mature and old growth forest throughout the northwest is only a small fraction of what it used to be, and much of what is left is highly fragmented. This has heavily impacted marbled murrelet populations, which rely on large, contiguous areas of coastal old growth for successful nesting. In Washington state the marbled murrelet population is currently 44% smaller than it was in the early 2000s – a decline of about 4.4% every year! This decline prompted Washington state to list the marbled murrelet as endangered, meaning that they are “seriously threatened with extinction throughout all or significant portion of the state.” (WAC 232-12-297).
A significant amount of low elevation, coastal, mature forests in Washington is on state trust lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). 1.4 million acres of state trust lands are within 55 miles of marine waters (within the range of the marbled murrelet), and 15% of current murrelet habitat in Washington is on land managed by DNR, about 212,000 acres. DNR is currently analyzing alternatives for a Long Term Conservation Strategy (LTCS) for the marbled murrelet on DNR-managed land, and the outcome of this process will have a large impact on murrelet populations for decades to come.
The LTCS for marbled murrelet is an important change to the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for state trust lands. DNR manages these trust lands to provide revenue for trust beneficiaries through timber harvest, however, these lands must also provide habitat for native species. When conducting harvest activities on trust lands, DNR may unintentionally harm or harass murrelets. This is called a “take” under the Endangered Species Act. Normally, take of a federally endangered or threatened species is prohibited, but the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) can issue an Incidental Take Permit to entities such as DNR so that they may still undertake activities that could potentially impact listed species. The Habitat Conservation Plan is used by DNR to apply for an Incidental Take Permit from USFWS. In order for the HCP to qualify for an Incidental Take Permit, DNR must, to the maximum extent practicable, minimize and mitigate impacts of take and it must be determined that the take will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of survival and recovery of the species in the wild. If the Long Term Conservation Strategy meets the relevant criteria, it will amend the Habitat Conservation Plan and USFWS will issue DNR a new Incidental Take Permit. Essentially, the Long Term Conservation Strategy is important because the murrelet habitat provided on DNR lands through an effective strategy will likely help murrelet recovery in Washington state.
Take Action – Comment on the Revised Draft Environmental Statement by November 6th!
Currently, there is a comment period on the Revised Draft Environmental Impact Statement (RDEIS) for the Long Term Conservation Strategy. In the RDEIS, the agencies analyze eight alternatives that present varying levels of acreage for marbled murrelet conservation. Alternatives F and G add the most acreage for murrelet conservation and will likely benefit murrelet populations in Washington.
Alternative H is DNR’s preferred alternative. This alternative is not adequate to protect current and future murrelet habitat, especially in southwest Washington. Alternative H allows too much harvest of mature and old growth forest over the next 50 years without preserving enough habitat as mitigation. This would be devastating to murrelet populations in Washington.
Now is you opportunity to speak up for marbled murrelets in Washington and comment on the Long Term Conservation Strategy. DNR and FWS are seeking public input on the RDEIS until November 6th. You can submit comments electronically at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MMLTCSRDEIS . Here is some suggested information to include in your comments:
- It is a critical time for marbled murrelet conservation as their population in Washington has experienced a 44% decline since 2001.
- DNR and FWS should protect more mature and old growth habitat which murrelets rely on for nesting. Alternative H is inadequate to protect current and future murrelet habitat, especially in southwest WA.
- No Long Term Conservation Strategy should include net loss of habitat. It should include more, larger murrelet conservation areas to improve geographic distribution of murrelets.
- The strategy should better protect murrelets from natural disturbance and the impacts of human-caused disturbance, especially where murrelets are known to nest and other special habitat areas.
- The strategy should support conservation for murrelets in the long-term by setting aside sufficient current and future mature forest to offset logging and to improve habitat conditions for murrelets. The existing population should not be put further at risk due to the strategy.
References and Helpful Links
There’s a lot to learn about the marbled murrelet and the Long Term Conservation Strategy. Check out these resources for more information.