Federal judge rules on murrelet habitat: work stops

This just in from an anonymous source (“regular contributor”):

By The Associated Press Follow on Twitter
on April 01, 2013 at 6:35 PM, updated April 02, 2013 at 10:11 AM

SEATTLE — A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has rejected a proposal by the federal government that would have dropped nearly 4 million acres of designated “critical habitat” for the marbled murrelet.

The consent decree proposed last summer would have partially settled a lawsuit brought by the American Forest Resource Council, southwestern Oregon’s Douglas County and the Carpenters Industrial Council against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The groups argued the agency inappropriately set aside habitat for the bird in 1996.

The threatened seabird nests in coastal forests in Oregon, Washington and California.

Conservation groups opposed the proposal, saying the birds are in decline and it was important to keep habitat protections in place.

Judge John H. Bates denied the consent decree last week but also suggested that a modified proposal could be acceptable.

A Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman said Monday the agency is reviewing the ruling.

— The Associated Press

Here’s how Oregon Public Broadcasting saw it: http://www.opb.org/news/article/environmental-group-fights-delay-in-marbled-murrelet-habitat-protections/

Here’s how the Kansas City “infoZine” saw it: http://www.infozine.com/news/stories/op/storiesView/sid/55497/


13 thoughts on “Federal judge rules on murrelet habitat: work stops”

  1. Bob, I read all three stories. Unless I missed it, I didn’t see anywhere anything about “work stops.” If so, why is that in the title and what does it mean?

    Also, since commenters on this blog often rail against litigation from environmental groups I wonder if anyone has any comments about the timber industry 3rd attempt to eliminate marbled murrelet protections? Here’s a snip from the “InfoZine” article:

    Murrelets and Old-growth Forest Habitat Remain Protected:
    Federal Court Rejects Logging Industry Attack on Threatened Seabird

    Washington, D.C. – infoZine – Marbled murrelets and their old-growth forest nesting habitat in the Pacific Northwest remain protected after a Washington, D.C. district court rejected both a proposal to eliminate all critical habitat protections and a direct challenge to protection of the murrelet as a threatened species.

    The lawsuit is the timber industry’s third attempt in the past decade to eliminate murrelet protections, despite undisputed scientific evidence that murrelets are disappearing from the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California.

    • Matt: I think you’re right. I should have also included the Center for Biological Diversity link that is titled “Citing Marbled Murrelet Lawsuit, Oregon Suspends Clearcutting on 914 Acres of Old-growth Forests on the Elliott State Forest” : http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2012/elliot-state-forest-11-14-2012.html

      I included the KC quote to show how these things get twisted, depending on political perspective. The “undisputed scientific evidence” claim, for example, is pure bluster. I gave Congressional testimony on the history of murrelet habitat in western Oregon about 20 years ago. There was not good baseline data then for measuring murrelet populations, and there still isn’t.

      They are not an endangered species at all throughout their range — just on the limits (think “people in Tierra del Fuego” as an analogy). I truly believe that the so-called “critical habitat” for these animals is more of a political construct than any kind of actual biological reality.

      These people want to stop logging. That much is clear. No one really has any idea what the actual consequences for the birds are. The “critical habitat” strategy for “preserving” spotted owl populations during the past 20 years, for example, seems to be resulting in a 3% population decline per year. Isn’t working to “save” the birds, but has been very effective in eliminating human jobs in the woods.

      • Thanks for the additional information Bob. Perhaps, if in 2013, some people are expecting jobs via the clearcutting of 914 acres of old-growth forests in a public state forest, they need to re-evaluate their expectations and such a view of the world.

        • Matt: You’re welcome. The fact is there isn’t 914 acres of old-growth in the entire Elliott State Forest. It mostly burned clean in 1868, and most of it probably wasn’t old-growth then, either. Plus, murrelets live in the ocean, are common throughout most of their range, and the transparent reason for this filing is to try and stop logging on 4 million acres of State land. The rationale for “preserving” this much “critical habitat” for these common seabirds is not based on facts or biological need — just dubious regulations that can be taken to court. In my opinion (and experience).

  2. Like other Endangered birds, it is their nesting habitat that is rare and needing protection. Where MM’s are different is their way of “nesting”. They tend to lay their eggs in a place where the eggs won’t simply fall off the branch. They are dependent on large branches on large trees, or maybe a broken snag, with canopy overhead. MM’s spend most of their lives at sea.

    If they want 4 million acres set aside, then that makes me think the habitat isn’t really all that rare. Or, could something else be at work, here??!?

  3. Bob Z is mixing things up. Last weeks ruling from a federal court in Washington DC concerning marbled murrelet critical habitat has nothing to do with the recent headline “Citing Marbled Murrelet Lawsuit, Oregon Suspends Clearcutting on 914 Acres of Old-growth Forests on the Elliott State Forest” The latter case is not about critical habitat, but about “taking” of murrelets in state logging projects where the buffers on occupied murrelet habitat shrank from 200 acres to 20 acres without justification or explanation.

    And Bob says “the transparent reason for this filing is to try and stop logging on 4 million acres of State land.” Again, this was a lawsuit brought by the _timber_industry_ trying to _increase_logging_ on 4 million acres of critical habitat, which is almost entirely on federal land, not state land. The courts ruling merely leaves the status quo in place. Critical habitat for a Threatened and declining species continues to be in place. The agencies strive to avoid “adverse modification” as they should.

    This blog is starting to bore me. Most posts are just cut-and-paste news clips. Many comments are unrelated to the substance of the story. Comments are more often just an opportunity for people to restate their pre-existing biases. And many of these same comments are only loosely connected to the facts.

    • Tree: Sorry about your boredom — I think many of these links and postings have led to interesting documents and discussions difficult to obtain via news clippings — or most other sources, for that matter — and I tend to just skim the things that might bore me. You are right, too, about the 4 million acres — I should have written “public lands” or “State and Federal” instead of just State.

      I don’t understand your point about “taking” habitat somehow being different than “critical habitat,” though. Maybe I really am mixed up on this point, as you say, and you can explain it to me better. What kind of habitat is being “taken,” exactly, and does that include habitat that isn’t “critical?” And — most importantly — what information, exactly, was used in the determination(s) of “murrelet habitat” in the first place?

      • Tree’s point is that the CBD link/murrelet lawsuit is separate from the critical habitat lawsuit. The CBD link you included in your reply to Matt’s first comment refers to a suit alleging a “take” of murrelets under the ESA. The ESA prohibits the “take” of listed species and defines “take” to include “adverse habitat modification.” That suit led to the suspension of 914 acres of logging on the Elliott State Forest.

        The critical habitat lawsuit does not appear to have “stopped work” at any particular location, but the judge ruled that USFWS’ 2011 removal of 190,000 acres of critical habitat for the murrelet did not have a sound legal basis.

        That’s my take based on a Google search. I haven’t read the court documents for each case.

        • Thanks, John: Your expertise and clarification are much appreciated. I haven’t looked at the court documents either, but suspect such an undertaking may be in the near future. I posted these at the request of another reader (ironically, “anonymous”), and haven’t had any time to look any deeper into them. Yet. This helps!

            • John: I used to send things to Sharon until she got tired of that and just gave me permission to post on my own — and now that she is on spring break, I have been getting things to post from others. Larry, Matthew, Steve Wilent, and a few others can post on your behalf, too. I don’t think too many people have used the “New Topics” page, but that should certainly work, too. Maybe now is a good time to test how that works!

            • John, Good question. I would be happy to post anything on your behalf. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I greatly appreciate the perspective and background you bring to these issues. Please just email me directly at: [email protected]. Thank you.

        • Chances are, that removal of 190,000 acres of critical habitat had a sound scientific basis, though. *smirk* Just not “legal”. The birds need old, decadent forests, with suitable “platforms” where their eggs just sit. No “formal” nest is built. (Hmmm, you’d think it would be a good survival instinct to learn how to make something like one.) I do know that most of the southern coastal areas of Oregon have already been “managed” into even-aged stands. I wonder how much of that “managed” area is now within their “critical” habitat.

          Similarly, nesting and foraging habitats of owls and goshawks are often lumped together under the same “protections”. It is the actual nesting areas which really need the protections. The foraging areas can be thinned or “clumped”. The MM’s have even more specific nesting requirements as owls and goshawks.


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