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Dept. of Natural Resources Releases Final Environmental Impact Study on Marbled Murrelets – Not Enough Conservation

Washington’s DNR released the FEIS of their preferred alternative for the state’s Long-Term Conservation Strategy for the Marbled Murrelet. The Strategy, overdue by decades, is in its final stages and DNR has submitted its application for a proposed amendment to the 1997 Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). OFCO works with the Washington Forest Law Center (WFLC), Washington Environmental Council, Conservation Northwest and Seattle Audubon in the Marbled Murrelet Coalition to advocate for more conservation for the Marbled Murrelet. That means protecting more of the old-growth condition forests where they nest.

~ Al Clark

The Marbled Murrelet spends most of its life at sea, but lays its single egg in moss-covered large branches. DNR’s preferred alternative (Alt H) will not conserve enough forest to save the bird from extirpation in Washington.

The FEIS is the final step in the application process to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Service and DNR have, for the past three years, conducted a joint NEPA/SEPA process. DNR has been responsive to all stakeholders and generous with their time and efforts to assist the public in its important role in setting environmental policy. However, a final and most important step was constrained by the joint process and a potential SEPA error occurred, resulting in a limitation on the public’s rights to engage in the decision-making process. We feel that the limitation on the SEPA process must be addressed. Click here to read the WFLC letter to the state Board of Natural Resources.

Most importantly, the Marbled Murrelet Coalition and conservation groups have two fundamental disagreements with DNR: the standard the agency must meet, and whether the fiduciary duty to the trusts that earn revenue from timber harvest takes precedence over the Endangered Species Act. Click here to read the WFLC article in the King County Bar Bulletin.

DNR believes that the trust fiduciary duty means that it can only mitigate the “take” of Marbled Murrelets, while maximizing the revenue for the beneficiaries to the trust. Conservation scientists and groups believe that the take=mitigation approach in Alt H will ensure that the Marbled Murrelet will be extirpated in Washington. In our view, DNR must live up to the HCP standard, which is that DNR must adopt a plan that “substantially contributes to the recovery” of the threatened seabird.

The Marbled Murrelet Coalition proposed a “Conservation Alternative” that was not analyzed by DNR. The Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Environmental Protection Agency commented on an earlier version of Alt H, which led to an alternative that would protect thousands more acres of habitat (Alt F). Alt F is based on a 2008 Science Report conducted by DNR and WDFW.

The Board of Natural Resources, DNR’s oversight body, will take up all of these issues in their meetings in October, November and December of this year. U.S. Fish and Wildlife will consider the application and release its Biological Opinion of Alt H very soon. Alt H is not enough conservation for the Marbled Murrelet–not enough by far.

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