Group wants to go further to protect marbeled murrelets in Washington state

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marbeled murrelet
Only about 7,500 marbled murrelets remain in Washington state. (Photo by Alan Schmierer/Flickr)

Washington State is asking for public comments on seven alternatives for conserving marbled murrelets — seabirds that nest in the Northwest, including on state-owned lands. Conservation groups are urging greater protections for the endangered birds.

Proposed management plans set aside varying amounts of mature forests, which are critical for murrelet nesting. Shawn Cantrell, vice president for field conservation with Defenders of Wildlife, said the loss of nesting habitat is the biggest issue the birds face, especially on state lands. But, he said, the state’s proposals don’t address the problem well enough.

“Even the most robust strategy that they have still doesn’t really stop the loss of all of the habitat,” Cantrell said. “Some of them are less bad than others.”

The murrelet population has shrunk by more than 40 percent in the past 15 years to about 7,500 birds in the state. Cantrell said Defenders of Wildlife, the Washington Environmental Council and other groups want the state not only to preserve old-growth forests, but to encourage these habitats to grow over the next few decades.

Many in the logging community say their interests also have to be considered along with protections for these birds. Cantrell said he is convinced the needs of rural Washington can be balanced with preserving this endangered species.

“We’re confident that there can be solutions that provide for those rural communities while also helping recover the murrelet,” he said. “It’s not an either/or.”

The Department of Natural Resources will hold four meetings in Western Washington in October on its long-term conservation strategy for the marbled murrelet. The public comment period for the revised draft Environmental Impact Statement on this plan is open through Nov. 6.

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