Several environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission on Thursday for failing to change the status of the marbled murrelet from “threatened” to “endangered.”
The murrelet is a small, elusive seabird that breeds along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to Central California. The bird forages in the ocean and flies inland to nest in mature trees.
Last year, environmental groups petitioned ODFW to further protect the bird under the Endangered Species Act.
In February, the commission voted 4 to 2 to up-list the bird, but four months later reversed that decision and denied the groups’ petition.
Nick Cady — the legal director at Cascadia Wildlands, one of the petitioners in the case — said at the commission’s June meeting in Baker City a host of timber industry representatives testified, asking the commission to reverse its early decision, which it eventually did.
“It kind of caught a lot of people off guard and they were kind of scrambling,” Cady said.
He said the commission was out of line when it reversed its decision.
“There’s a number of ways in which we believe the commission violated the law,” Cady said.
At the June meeting, the commission was tasked with adopting survival guidelines for the bird, either with or without modifications.
“They just kind of elected for option ‘C,’ I guess, which nobody thought was going to happen,” Cady said.
“It’s been a really bizarre course of events,” he added,
But Matt Hill with Douglas Timber Operators said ODFW made the right call.
“What they have to do is make their decision on the best available science and we think they did,” Hill said.
He said from 2000 to 2016 there has been an average annual increase of bird populations by 1.8 percent, pulling numbers from a recent U.S. Forest Service survey.
“It’s hard to dispute that they’re moving in the right direction,” Hill said.
He said the lawsuits are frequently used to stop logging, not so much to recover species. He brought up the Northern Spotted Owl as an example.
“We reduced logging 90 percent in Western Oregon, 30,000 people lost their jobs yet fires continue to eat away at owl habitat,” Hill said.
He said recovery efforts can often be complicated by factors out of human control, like wildfires.
“When you’re looking at a lot of these battles over birds in the woods and it’s generally environmental groups finding a bird that makes it easy to shut down (logging),” Hill said. “They certainly have a right to make that pitch but its got to be substantiated by the data.”
The ODFW Commission met in Salem on Friday to consider survival guidelines to help conserve the threatened bird.
“Hopefully we’ll get some answers and get to ask questions directly,” Cady told the News-Review on Thursday.
“I don’t anticipate the commission changing its mind,” he said.