U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission on Thursday reversed a decision to upgrade the status of the marbled murrelet from threatened to endangered, choosing to wait for a 10-year study of the species to end.
There were concerns that increased protections for marbled murrelets — small seabirds that winter at sea but nest in coastal forests — would mean stricter logging limits on state forestland. Several county commissioners from coastal communities testified at a commission meeting in Baker City Thursday that they were concerned about the economic impacts of the decision.
The move toward uplisting nearly ended in a deadlock when commissioners first considered it at a meeting in February. It only passed after Commissioner Bob Webber decided to change his vote.
Staff recommended reclassifying marbled murrelets as an endangered species Thursday, but Curt Melcher, director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said commissioners had the option to reject the listing change, which they did in a 4-2 vote.
The commission intends to wait for results from an ongoing study of marbled murrelets by Oregon State University researchers. The researchers are in the second year of the 10-year study.
“Let’s wait a few years and let scientists update us on how this species is doing,” Mike Finley, the commission’s chairman, said.
Environmental groups shot back against Thursday’s reversal.
Quinn Read, director for Defenders of Wildlife, said the commission “bowed to the interests of the timber industry, abandoning the conservation leadership they demonstrated just four months ago.”
“We are extremely disappointed, but we are not done,” Read said. “Oregonians won’t stand for this failure of leadership. Defenders will continue to work with our conservation partners to challenge this indefensible decision.”
Marbled murrelets are considered endangered in Washington state and California. Oregon listed the species as threatened in 1995. Very little is known about them and nests are hard to find and study. The birds appear to favor large, old-growth conifers, a habitat that has dwindled, researchers say.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife assessed the species in response to a petition from multiple conservation organizations.
The Oregon Coastal Caucus, a group of legislators that includes state Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, and Rep. Deborah Boone, D-Cannon Beach, wrote a letter to the commission on Tuesday calling the potential uplisting of the marbled murrelet “unwarranted, illegal, and wrong.”
“The commission made the correct decision, considering more than a decade of USFW surveys reveal a steady increase in population,” Sara Duncan, the director of public affairs for the Oregon Forest & Industries Council, said in a statement. “Coupling the upward trend line with ongoing and measurable expansion of habitat, as well as cutting-edge research investments at OSU, Oregonians should feel good about the new era of forest management and cooperative work supporting local communities and wildlife.”