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Catch & Release

09.09.04

Conservation group ‘Earthjustice’ raises alarm over murrelet decision

Portland, OR-- Washington, D.C., officials announced Sept. 1 that they will no longer consider Pacific Northwest murrelets as isolated from murrelets in Canada and Alaska, blatently disregarding recent recommendations by independent, private-sector scientists, as well as their own scientists, to keep federal protections in place.

“The report of the scientific review team could not have been more compelling in its call for continued protection for murrelets, and its conclusions that these birds are on the path to extinction,” said Susan Ash, Conservation Director with the Portland Audubon Society. “Once again, the Bush administration is doing the bidding of its campaign contributors – ignoring sound science in order to serve up more precious old-growth forests to the timber industry.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to conduct a status review of the old-growth dependent birds in response to a timber-industry lawsuit that sought to remove those protections. EDAW, a private environmental consulting firm in Seattle, conducted the scientific review of the birds’ status over the past year.

The status review, released in March, recommends keeping the murrelet’s current population status, stating that “marbled murrelets should be considered to include at least three distinct populations: (1) the Aleutian Islands or northern population; (2) the Alaska Peninsula to Puget Sound or central population; and (3) the California, Oregon, and western Washington or southern population. In April, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Regional Office in Portland confirmed that the Pacific Northwest murrelets deserve federal protection.

“Everyone agrees that marbled murrelets may soon be gone forever from the coastal forests of the Pacific Northwest,” said Dave Werntz, Science Director at the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, “This announcement is a slap in the face of sound science and open, credible decision-making.”

In 1997, the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that the marbled murrelet population in the Pacific Northwest was declining four to seven percent a year. More recent demographic models indicate that populations in Washington, Oregon, and California are still declining rapidly and will be extinct within the next 50-100 years.

“Apparently, the Fish and Wildlife Service under the Bush administration no longer protects species, but simply presides over their extinction,” said Kristen Boyles, staff attorney with Earthjustice. “This twisting of law and science for political ends has got to stop.”

Marbled murrelets are shy, robin-sized seabirds that use old-growth forests for nesting and rearing their young. First protected in 1992 after widespread logging of their old-growth forest habitat, marbled murrelets are listed as a threatened species. A 2002 lawsuit filed by the timber industry challenged the marbled murrelet listing, as well as its habitat protections. The Fish and Wildlife Service will be reviewing the murrelet’s critical habitat protections over the next several years.

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