‘It’s Time to Move Forward’: Marbled Murrelet Conservation Impact Report Released
September 20, 2019
Proposed conservation strategy would replace 1997 interim plan, providing support for threatened seabird, rural communities
The final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the long-term conservation of the marbled murrelet on state trust lands was released Friday. The report is the product of more than two decades of research and collaboration with scientists and community members across western Washington to develop a conservation plan for the federally threatened species.
The final EIS for the Marbled Murrelet Long-Term Conservation Strategy will allow the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to manage public lands across western Washington to provide important habitat for the seabird and guarantee a regular, sustainable revenue stream for public school construction and rural counties.
“We have both an ethical and legal obligation to protect the marbled murrelet and support our rural economies,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, the elected official who oversees DNR. “For more than 20 years, we have been stuck in gridlock. This inaction has created anxiety and fear for both rural communities and environmentalists. Inaction is not working for the marbled murrelet, it’s not working for public services that depend on public forestland, and it’s not working for rural communities.
“It’s time to move forward. Our approach reflects a fundamental truth: that we are stronger together. We are charting a path to safeguard this threatened species while also creating jobs and economic opportunity. We’re making an investment in the success of the marbled murrelet – and in the future of western Washington’s rural economies.”
The final EIS represents the culmination of the work of DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to analyze eight alternatives for the long-term conservation strategy. Now, the Board of Natural Resources can select a final conservation strategy, which will guarantee a sustainable revenue stream to rural counties and public schools.
“DNR's sound stewardship of public lands provides critical funding for public school construction throughout Washington,” said Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction. “This conservation strategy balances the needs of our schools, rural communities, species preservation, and the sustainability of a vital economic industry in our state. By putting forward this thoughtful plan, we are ensuring that support for our schools will continue while the Legislature establishes a stronger foundation for K–12 capital construction needs. I am proud to have worked with the department in its efforts.”
272,000 Acres of Current and Future Protected Habitat
The board’s preferred alternative, Alternative H, will protect 59,000 acres of occupied marbled murrelet sites (areas where murrelets have been sighted) and 58,000 acres of forestland set aside specifically for the bird. Within this protected forestland, there are 78,000 acres of current marbled murrelet habitat.
This habitat is in addition to 90,000 acres of non-revenue-generating DNR forestland that is also suitable murrelet habitat. These are forests in protected natural areas, areas unsuitable for logging, or lands with very high conservation value. In total, 168,000 acres of current murrelet habitat will be protected (78,000 + 90,000).
Further, DNR estimates that – over the next 50 years – additional protected DNR forestland will become suitable murrelet habitat. This will occur as forests mature and grow the complex older forests preferred by the marbled murrelet. The addition of this habitat means that, in 50 years, there will be 272,000 acres of marbled murrelet habitat on state lands.
100,000 Acres Made Available for Timber Harvests in Rural Communities
Alternative H will also free up more than 100,000 acres of forestland for the first time in 20 years, allowing the lands to be sustainably managed to generate revenue for rural communities and create family-wage jobs. Timber harvests have not been allowed in these areas pending the selection of final conservation strategy.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the marbled murrelet as a threatened species since 1992. DNR signed a Habitat Conservation Plan with Fish and Wildlife in 1997 that contained an interim strategy for the marbled murrelet. The long-term strategy in the final EIS will replace this interim strategy.
The marbled murrelet is a small, fast-flying seabird that only comes on land to lay eggs and rear its young, spending the rest of its life at sea. Murrelets lay one egg per year, only setting them atop large moss-covered branches high in the forest canopy within 55 miles of saltwater. The bird’s population decline is linked to the loss of inland nesting habitat, decreased availability of prey, and increased densities of predators.
DNR manages 14 percent of existing marbled murrelet habitat in Washington state. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers DNR-managed land in Clallam, Pacific, and Wahkiakum counties to be important habitat to the conservation of the species, of which approximately 6,000 are believed to remain in Washington state.
The final EIS, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to publish in the Federal Register on September 27, is intended to satisfy the environmental review requirements of both the State Environmental Policy Act and National Environmental Policy Act.
DNR next anticipates a final decision from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on whether to approve DNR’s application for an incidental take permit for the marbled murrelet. Once an incidental take permit is approved, the Board of Natural Resources, which sets policies to guide DNR’s land and resource management, will select a final conservation strategy from those included in the final EIS.
Photos of the marbled murrelet and its habitat, the environmental impact statement, and maps of the affected areas are available at bit.ly/MurreletEIS.
Washington State Department of Natural Resources