By STEVEN DUBOIS
PORTLAND, Oregon — A federal judge has handed the timber industry another defeat in its effort to expand logging on the habitat of a threatened coastal seabird.
U.S. District Court Judge John Bates in Washington D.C. said marbled murrelets will keep their Endangered Species Act listing, and rejected an argument that central California murrelets, which are doing poorly, should not be lumped in with the populations in Oregon, Washington and Northern California.
Bates also ruled old-growth forest habitat will remain protected during a three-year period when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service re-examines what it considers a flawed 1996 critical habitat designation.
“The court is not in a position to fully assess the seriousness of the deficiencies or to predict whether or how the new designation will differ from the current designation,” Bates said in an opinion Thursday.
The marbled murrelet was listed as threatened in 1992, and habitat protection has meant less logging in the Pacific Northwest. The tiny sea birds venture inland to raise their young and depend on old-growth forests for nesting.
“The timber industry keeps pushing to log this bird’s habitat and is using, I think, increasingly desperate tactics to try to say that we shouldn’t be protecting this bird and its habitat,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney for Earthjustice. “I think it’s time for timber to figure how to live with this bird.”
The lawsuit was the timber industry’s fourth attempt in the past decade to eliminate protections for the forests that marbled murrelets call home, despite undisputed scientific evidence that murrelets are continuing to disappear from the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California.
The lawsuit was brought by the American Forest Resource Council, Carpenters Industrial Council and Oregon’s Douglas County.
Tom Partin, president of the AFRC, a timber industry group, said he had yet to hear about the ruling. He said the critical habitat portion of ruling was concerning, and that the council continues to believe that food shortages in the ocean are a bigger problem for the birds than limited nesting habitat.
“From our perspective, there has always been enough habitat for the nesting part of it,” Partin said. “It’s been the other aspects of their life cycle that may have the biggest influence on the marbled murrelet.”