New Study Finds Population Of Threatened Marbled Murrelet Down Almost 30 Percent In Last 10 Years

Friday, December 21, 2012
Marbled Murrelet
Marbled Murrelet
- photo by Thomas Hamer

Federal conservation efforts haven’t come close to reversing or even halting the decline of the Marbled Murrelet, a seabird that nests in old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. That’s the conclusion of a major new peer-reviewed study of the status of the Marbled Murrelet, which was prepared by scientists from the US Forest Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Crescent Research, a private research firm.

The study, published in the international research journal The Condor, found that Marbled Murrelet numbers in five different study areas fell sharply between 2001 and 2010, from a total count of roughly 22,200 to a total count of roughly 16,700. The five study areas encompass all but one of the Marbled Murrelet conservation zones identified in the federal Marbled Murrelet Recovery Plan.

“This study confirms the fears that many conservationists have held for years,” said Steve Holmer, Senior Policy analyst for American Bird Conservancy. “By showing that the Marbled Murrelet is still in sharp decline, the study emphasizes the need for stronger, more aggressive conservation measures.”

Marbled Murrelets nest in tall trees found in forests in Washington, Oregon and California. The authors of the study cite the loss of nesting habitat as a major cause of the murrelet’s decline over the past century; they add that it still may be a contributing factor, thanks to major fires, logging and big wind storms.

Other changes cited as potentially important ranged from increased nest predation to reductions in the quality and availability of marine creatures eaten by the birds. Increased nest predation seems to be associated with the presence of more crows and ravens, which in turn is linked to growing human settlements and the presence of campgrounds.

This study was published on the heels of a court ruling that stopped timber sales and logging in three state-owned Oregon forests that are home to Marbled Murrelets. Federal District Court Judge Ann Aiken recently granted an injunction that prevents the state from proceeding on 11 timber sales, plus any other logging in occupied murrelet nest sites in the Elliot, Clatsop and Tillamook state forests. The ruling stops logging in murrelet habitat until the resolution of a case filed by Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity and Portland Audubon Society. Those groups are asserting that the state's logging practices are harming the federally-protected seabird.

The Marbled Murrelet was Federally listed in 1992 as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, a designation that requires Federal agencies to carry out conservation programs for each listed species and ensure that any actions the agency funds, authorizes, or carries out are not likely to jeopardize the survival of the species, or to adversely modify species designated critical habitat. 

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