A Big Win for Marbled Murrelets…But Will ODFW Do the Right Thing?

By Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director

In June 2018, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission made a decision that was inexplicable even by the low standards this agency has too often set for protecting Oregon’s wildlife. In a 4-2 vote, it reversed, without even the semblance of a coherent explanation, a decision it had made just four months earlier to move the Marbled Murrelet from threatened to endangered status under the State Endangered Species Act. The decisive factor in this reversal seemed to be aggressive lobbying by coastal county commissioners and timber lobbyists at a hearing held in eastern Oregon (300 miles from the nearest murrelet habitat). The lobbying centered primarily on issues that are not allowed to be considered in listing decisions, at a hearing where reconsideration of the listing decision was not on the agenda. Two months later when people came to the next ODFW Commission hearing and attempted to testify on the surprise reversal, the Commission Chair preemptively threatened to have people removed by state troopers if they attempted to testify on this topic. In the chair’s own rules, such testimony would have violated the “rule of germaneness.”

A photo of a Marbled Murrelet flying low over the water.
Marbled Murrelet, photo by Robin Corcoran/USFWS

Now an Oregon State Court has ruled against ODFW based on litigation brought by Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Bird Alliance of Oregon, and other conservation groups. In August of 2019, Lane County Circuit Court Judge Lauren Holland found that the ODFW Commission failed to provide a written explanation for its decision and kicked the decision back to the ODFW Commission. Now the Commission must decide whether to go with its original decision to uplist the Marbled Murrelet or attempt to justify its subsequent reversal. We believe the science is clear–the Marbled Murrelet is heading for extinction in Oregon unless significant new steps are taken to reverse its decline. The ODFW Commission has not yet indicated how it intends to proceed. 

The decision by the ODFW Commission is one of several important upcoming decisions, in which Bird Alliance of Oregon is actively engaged, that will affect this highly imperiled seabird that nests in mature and old-growth coastal forests:

  • The Board of Forestry will consider new rules to protect Marbled Murrelet nesting habitat on private lands. 
  • A decision is pending in a lawsuit over a private timber company’s efforts to log prime murrelet nesting habitat.
  • The Department of State Lands and OSU are developing a long-term plan for the Elliott State Forest, which includes some of the best murrelet habitat left in Oregon.
  • The Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests are working with federal agencies to develop Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) to protect federally listed species, including the Marbled Murrelet.

This is a great time to get involved in helping to protect Marbled Murrelets and the mature and old-growth forests on which they depend–the decisions made next year could be the difference between extinction and survival for this species.