Judge intervenes on behalf of threatened seabird in Oregon
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon judge has ruled that the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission illegally reversed an earlier decision granting endangered species status to the marbled murrelet, a small seabird that nests in old-growth forests.
Conservation groups on Wednesday accused Oregon officials of seeking to avoid protections for the bird, allowing clear-cut logging where it nests. Michelle Dennehy, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, or ODFW, said it does not comment on legal matters.
“Oregon’s desperate struggle to avoid protections for the marbled murrelet ignored science, the law and ODFW’s mission to protect Oregon’s imperiled wildlife,” said Nick Cady, legal director at Cascadia Wildlands, one of the groups that in 2016 petitioned the wildlife commission to list the marbled murrelet as endangered.
Five conservation groups in 2016 petitioned the wildlife commission to increase protections for the marbled murrelet from threatened to endangered under the Oregon Endangered Species Act. The commission voted in February 2018 to increase the seabird’s protections, concluding it was likely to go extinct in the foreseeable future. But, after a change in its membership, the commission reversed itself without explanation, and voted in June 2018 to deny the petition.
Lane County Circuit Court Judge Lauren Holland said in an Aug. 1 ruling in Eugene that the commission was required to explain its reversal, and that it did not do so.
“The Commission failed to provide a written basis for the denial,” Holland wrote.
Cady said the ruling throws the issue back to the commission, which can either abide by its earlier decision to list the bird as endangered, or try to justify its later reversal with peer-reviewed scientific evidence.
“Oregon has allowed intensive clear-cut logging to continue in marbled murrelet habitat on lands owned and regulated by the state,” the conservation groups said in a statement.
The National Audubon Society describes the marbled murrelet as a “strange, mysterious little seabird” and says its population has suffered serious declines in recent years as it continues to lose nesting habitat with cutting of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest.
Its behavior of nesting high in trees in old-growth forest several miles inland from coast was unknown until the 1970s, the group says. They feed by foraging while swimming underwater fairly close to shore.
“There can be no question the marbled murrelet is endangered in Oregon,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Logging, warming seas and a host of other factors are all taking a toll on this far-flying seabird.”
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