Statement on release of the FEIS for DNR’s Long-term Marbled Murrelet Conservation Strategy

Statement on release of the FEIS for DNR’s Long-term Marbled Murrelet Conservation Strategy

ConservationNWAdmin / Sep 23, 2019 / Murrelet, News Releases, State Trust Lands

On Friday, September 20th, the Washington Department of Natural Resources released the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the Long-term Marbled Murrelet Conservation Strategy.

Marbled murrelet: Photo Rick Bowers / Audubon

Marbled murrelets are small seabirds that nest in old-growth forests and feed in the Pacific Ocean. Murrelets need large areas of coastal and near coastal old-growth forest for nesting. They avoid fragmented and partially developed forest landscapes, and are declining rapidly in Washington and listed as a state endangered species.

This is a joint final environmental impact statement (FEIS) between U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and DNR to satisfy both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Eight alternatives, including a no-action alternative, were developed for analysis. The alternatives represented a range of approaches to long-term marbled murrelet habitat conservation on DNR-managed lands within 55 miles of marine waters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to publish the Final EIS in the Federal Register on September 27, 2019.

As a participating organization on Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz’s Marbled Murrelet Solutions Table, and a regional group that has long worked on behalf of old-growth forests, marbled murrelets, including collaborating with rural communities, Conservation Northwest appreciates the long years and hard work that went into getting to this stage of the decision process.

Murrelets or timber jobs is a false choice

“We understand that rural communities and school construction relies on revenue from harvesting trees on DNR Trust Lands, and that mills look to DNR lands for part of their supply,” said Paula Swedeen, Ph.D., Conservation Northwest Policy Director and Murrelet Solutions Table representative. “As a society, we should not be faced with the false choice of reducing vital services for people or causing significant loss of our natural heritage.”

“While there are many aspects of DNR and USFWS’s proposal that will help murrelets, we believe that more habitat conservation is required to reduce the chances that murrelets will disappear from Washington state,” said Swedeen. “We are particularly concerned about the near-term loss of existing habitat, and the fact that there is less overall habitat in the long-term near known occupied nesting sites than under the No Action Alternative.”

Marbled murrelets depend on old forests for their nests. Protecting murrelets benefits forests, fish and many other species. Photo: USFWS

The population viability analysis in the Final EIS shows a decline in Washington’s murrelet population, before eventually regaining those losses in 50 years, but with no net gain in murrelet numbers.

“We call on the Board of Natural Resources and the USFWS to re-consider whether this is a prudent course of action in light of ongoing downward trends in the population and future uncertainty driven by climate change,” said Swedeen. “We also think that Washington State Constitution allows for a more expansive read of DNR’s obligations—that “all the people” are its beneficiaries. It is well past time to re-think how the state funds crucial county services such as firefighting, hospitals and libraries, and how we ensure adequate school infrastructure conducive to learning.”

“In addition, given that half of the timber harvested from private lands in western Washington is shipped overseas as unprocessed raw logs, we need a serious discussion about how to ensure that domestic mills can get the material they need to employ workers so we don’t have to fight over a small fraction of the landscape that still has habitat valuable to Washington’s old forest-dependent wildlife.”

Conservation Northwest is committed to continuing our work with affected stakeholders through the Solutions Table and elsewhere to find ways to conserve the murrelet while improving the stability and resilience of funding for county services, schools, and maintaining jobs in the timber industry.

Learn more about our work for marbled murrelets and state forests here. Or read more in this article from the Tacoma News Tribune, Endangered bird, loggers both get something from new plan for state lands.
State forests like this one along the Clearwater River on the Olympic Peninsula provide habitat for marbled murrelets, fishers, elk, salmon and many other species. Photo: Chase Gunnell