A small chubby seabird called the Marbled murrelet that nests in coastal old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest, received a break today when a district court in Washington, D.C., ruled not to eliminate the “critical habitat” designation of the forests in which it lives. A critical habitat designation is required for the bird to remain protected under the Endangered Species Act. It was first listed as endangered 17 years ago.

Marbled murrelet. (US Fish & Wildlife Service)

The ruling came from a lawsuit filed by the timber industry which has twice before sued to have murrelet protections eliminated so that it can increase logging of forests more than 100 years old.

Murrelets depend on old-growth forests for habitat and, in particular, use the oldest trees for nests. They seem to prefer larger stands generally within about one mile of the ocean.

Numerous scientific studies have shown that the chief reason murrelets are fast disappearing is loss of habitat from ongoing timber harvesting on the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal government’s principal wildlife conservation agency, had wanted to withdraw a 16-year old designation of protected habitat for the species in order to resolve an industry lawsuit.

Some of the old-growth forests in the region are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which has been under pressure both from Congress and the BLM’s parent agency, the Department of Interior, to increase logging. Years after decades of rapacious clear-cutting—under the guise of “sustained yield,” during which loggers stripped the Pacific Northwest of nearly all its old-growth, thus precipitating the crash of the forest industry—timber companies continue to push for access to the last remaining old trees, no matter the ultimate cost.

Without old-growth forest protection, these beautiful birds will disappear from the Pacific Coast.


Shout out: The Center for Biological Diversity.

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