Declining seabird may drop off the endangered list

  • The marbled murrelet may lose its protection

    Rich MacIntosh/USGS
  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in October that it will move forward with plans to remove the marbled murrelet, a small seabird, from under the protective wing of the Endangered Species Act.

The robin-sized bird, which lays its eggs on the moss-covered branches of old-growth trees, has hampered Northwest logging for more than a decade. Scientists say the species is sliding toward extinction in Oregon, Washington and California. However, the Bush administration has concluded that the birds in these states do not differ enough from more numerous murrelets in Canada and Alaska to merit protection on their own (HCN, 9/27/04: Life After Old Growth).

Biologists in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional office in Portland, Ore., said last year that there were clear enough differences between murrelet populations to necessitate the protection of the birds in the Northwest. Their draft report stated that the loss of any murrelet populations would "compromise (the species’) long-term viability."

But Craig Manson, assistant secretary of the Department of Interior for fish, wildlife and parks, reversed the findings. The language about "long-term viability" was deleted from the final report, which argued that new wildlife safeguards in Canada would be sufficient to save the species.

Canadian scientists are skeptical, however. "I don’t think the U.S. can expect Canada to provide extra murrelets," says Alan Burger, a murrelet biologist at the University of Victoria, "because ours are in trouble as well."

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