Even though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 3.9 million acres of land along the Oregon and Washington coast as "critical habitat" for the marbled murrelet in late April, nothing changed for the Citizens Murrelet Survey Project. The members of the Corvallis, Ore.-based group continue their routine of getting up at 4:30 a.m. and spending the rest of the day looking up at giant trees, hoping to spot the robin-sized seabird.
"That designation doesn't protect the
bird at all," says the group's director Lisa Brown, who has helped
train nearly 100 volunteers.
Why not? Under the
salvage logging rider signed by President Clinton last July,
thousands of acres of murrelet habitat, much of it in Oregon's
Siuslaw National Forest, may be cut before September. The
designation of critical habitat, required by the Endangered Species
Act, can't prevent salvage logging because the rider supersedes
At first, it seemed the rider
would not significantly affect the species, because it contains a
provision that disallows cutting in murrelet habitat. But a Jan. 19
ruling by Federal District Judge Michael Hogan changed the
definition of what constitutes habitat. The judge agreed with the
timber industry that guidelines to verify the presence of murrelets
- developed by a group of mostly federal scientists known as the
Pacific Seabird Group Protocol - were too broad. Only one
characteristic, he said, applied: A bird must be sighted within the
forest canopy of a sale site to prove the trees are used for
As a result, protection for some 100
timber sale units previously identified as murrelet habitat was
thrown out the door. "Hogan made it virtually impossible to
document an area inhabited by the murrelet," says Adam Berger of
Seattle's Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, which is challenging
Hogan's ruling in appeals court.
Kim Nelson, who
helped develop the seabird protocol, says murrelets are one of the
most elusive birds in North America. She recalls it once took a
team of scientists two weeks to verify the presence of murrelets at
a nest site; they at last resorted to a remote video camera for
Shannon Wilson spent three years
documenting murrelet populations in Oregon and Washington forests.
"All of that work (for the Bureau of Land Management) is
nullified," says Wilson, who now trains volunteers with the
Citizens Murrelet Survey Project.
continue to hike to as many of the sites as possible in hopes of
spotting murrelets before the loggers arrive. Brown says the work
is extremely difficult because the birds nest hundreds of feet in
the air. Usually the only time to spot one is early in the morning,
when the murrelet returns to its nest after feeding in the ocean.
But she hopes the hard work will pay off; so far
volunteers have spotted "sub-canopy behavior" in three proposed
sale areas. The group has submitted its findings to the Forest
Service and is waiting to hear if the agency will cancel the sales.
"We've been an extra set of eyes and ears," she
For more information on the Citizens
Murrelet Survey Project, call 541/758-0255.
Bill Taylor, HCN intern