Final plan for marbled murrelet recovery shows lack of leadership leaving unanswered questions for the future of both wildlife and rural communities

The Washington State Board of Natural Resources (Board) voted to adopt a Long-Term Conservation Strategy for the marbled murrelet to amend the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) 1997 Habitat Conservation Plan and obtain a multi-decadal Endangered Species Act (ESA) “incidental take” permit from the federal government to harvest timber on state-managed forestlands despite impacts to threatened marbled murrelets.

Science, including analysis by DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists, shows that the final Marbled Murrelet Long Term Conservation Strategy as selected by the Board falls well short of meeting the habitat conservation needs required to reverse the decline of these unique seabirds in Washington state.

Governor Inslee’s representative on the Board of Natural Resources voted against the proposal, citing the Governor’s concerns about the plan not being protective enough in the face of climate change.

Throughout this process environmental organizations have expressed serious concerns about the strategy that was approved today by the Board of Natural Resources. There remain deep concerns about the strategy, and its impacts on forest ecosystems, threatened wildlife, and rural communities.

The Marbled Murrelet Coalition (Conservation Northwest, Defenders of Wildlife, Olympic Forest Coalition, Seattle Audubon, Washington Environmental Council, and Washington Forest Law Center) issued the following statement in response:

This strategy and the permit that accompanies it do not do enough to mitigate the harm that DNR’s forest management activities will cause the marbled murrelet and the forest habitat the birds rely on over the next several decades.

The state must do more to protect threatened and endangered species. We believe this can be done while ensuring the health and longevity of rural economies. These goals are not mutually exclusive and our organizations have and will continue to work on strategies that support resource-dependent communities in Washington while protecting and conserving Washington’s environment.

“Washingtonians should not be faced with the false choice of reducing vital services for people or causing significant loss of our wildlife heritage. In our prosperous state, our state leaders can and must find solutions that deliver both,” said Becky Kelley, President of Washington Environmental Council.

“We believe the state’s constitution provides a mandate to the Department of Natural Resources and its Board discretion to better support marbled murrelets and all public resources in addition to coastal communities,” said Paula Swedeen, Ph.D., Conservation Northwest Policy Director and a representative on the state’s murrelet Solutions Table.

Background on the decision process:

Today’s Board decision stems from an earlier decision by the Board and Department not to pursue a permit based on a more conservation-focused strategy, despite extensive feedback from the conservation and scientific communities, as well as other government agencies, urging them to do so. According to DNR’s analyses (FEIS p.4-61) the adopted plan will result in fewer marbled murrelets on DNR-managed lands at the end of 50 years than are present today, even under the most optimistic set of assumptions.

Severe species decline, like that of the marbled murrelet in Washington, are critical warnings to us about the health of our environment. The threats to our natural resources on which both human and wildlife communities depend, will only increase as the climate crisis worsens. Decisions on how to conserve these public resources are becoming more and more consequential, and have significant implications for future generations of Washingtonians and the resources that will be available to them.

Conservation Northwest, Defenders of Wildlife, Olympic Forest Coalition, Seattle Audubon, Washington Environmental Council, and Washington Forest Law Center make up the Marbled Murrelet Coalition, working together on behalf of murrelets, their forest habitat and coastal communities.