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Latest Science on the Marbled Murrelet: In the Forest and Out on the Water

~ Nick Hatch

OFCO Board Member Fayette Krause posed this question to the Marbled Murrelet Coalition: Why are Washington’s Marbled Murrelets declining much more rapidly than California, Oregon or Alaska? The U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station released a study on Washington’s Marbled Murrelets in part to answer the question.

The Marbled Murrelet nests in old-growth condition trees, with large nest “platforms” padded with a thick layer of moss, and protected from open forest edges that would allow corvids to predate on the single egg and then the hatchling chick. Using telemetry and tracking devices on 157 birds over five years between 2004 and 2008, the research showed only 20 pairs attempted nesting, and only four fledged successfully.

The research hoped to connect both the key habitats—forest and marine—to learn about the decline of the population and to inform conservation efforts. The study concluded that decreasing nesting habitat and marine feeding habitat in greater distance from nesting habitat contributed to population decline. In Washington, the range of nesting habitat was found to be an order of magnitude larger than areas in Alaska, where the birds are not a threatened species. The report: “Inside Their Hidden World: Tracking the Elusive Marbled Murrelet.”

OFCO Board Member Karen Sullivan, a marine biologist, is conducting an extensive literature gap survey on the marine habitat for the murrelet to be published in 2020–21. Naval operations in the Salish Sea area are of concern in the decline for prey fish and impacts on murrelets. Salish Sea Wild’s video on the Marbled Murrelet is one to watch to understand the marine habitat for the murrelet. The segment is “The Risky Business of Saving Seabirds.” Intrepid scientists are out on the water in inclement weather searching for and tagging Marbled Murrelets and collecting samples to determine what is happening with the murrelet diet.

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On the Banks of the River of Hope – The Elwha’s Lost Mile

Olympic Hot Springs Access Road Project – Elwha River
credit: P. Jones

The Elwha River Restoration Program is one of the few restoration programs that serves both as a visionary, successful effort to restore a watershed from the headwaters to the estuary—and as a model for what may be accomplished by dam removal. Essayist and poet Tim McNulty, Vice President of the Olympic Park Associates writes of this incredible process in his “Letter to America.”

Thus far the hopes for the river to come back have been realized. Unexpected is the very dynamic changes in the river. As the Elwha finds its natural course it traverses the valley floor, and impacted a mile of the access road and campgrounds. OFCO supports the goal of full restoration of the Elwha watershed, including access for recreation and research purposes, and is asking the Olympic National Park (see Project page here) to prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement to better ensure that the new bypass road is designed and constructed to minimize impacts to the river, its fisheries, threatened and endangered species, historic sites and cultural resources, and to the mature and old-growth forest in the Project area. See OFCO’s comments here.

Rob Smith (NPCA – L) and Tim McNulty (OPA – Center) speak to Olympic National Park and Federal Highways staff about access road to Olympic Hot Springs in the Elwha River Restoration area. credit: P Jones

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Pollinators, Birds, Fish Lose in the Battle Over Preserving Natural Soundscapes of the Olympic Peninsula – Learn More

OFCO partners with the National Park Conservation Associates to host three educational events on the impacts of the Navy expansion of training in the Olympic Wilderness areas. Learn the latest updates and action needed now in Forks (March 19), Port Angeles (March 20) and Port Townsend (March 21). RSVP; where and when on the poster below.


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Support Dabob Bay and Devils Lake Natural Areas Now!

From Peter Bahls, conservation leader with the Northwest Watershed Institute, asking for our support.

Contact your legislators with the message: “We urge you to permanently protect 1,270 acres of state timber lands within the boundaries of the Dabob Bay and Devils Lake Natural Areas; conservation areas that were expanded with broad public support in 2016. Please fund DNR’s proposed Trust Land Transfer project list that will allow DNR to preserve these forests, shorelines and critical habitats and reposition and compensate the Trusts to prevent loss of revenue to Jefferson County. DNR is proposing $27 M for TLT. Please support their proposal if feasible. At a minimum, please support the Governor’s proposed $14.8 M for four TLT projects, including Dabob Bay and Devils Lake in Jefferson County.”

Call key legislators or send a message:

Senator Kevin Van DeWege, 360-786-7646,

Representative Steve Tharinger, 360-786-7904,

Contact your legislator and send a message to your Senator or Representative at 1-800-562-6000 and TTY for Hearing Impaired 1-800-833-6388.

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Washington Legislative Update: Murrelets, Trust Land Transfer, Ghost Shrimp, Wolves

The Washington State 66th Legislature, 2019 Regular Session, is considering several bills which impact the Olympic Peninsula forests and associated marine waters, endangered species, and habitat conservation. Bills may be introduced up to February 22. Thus far, OFCO has commented and testified on a few key bills, and encourages members to track these bills and consider submitting your support or opposition.

SB 5547 / HB 1546 Will Undermine Long-Term Conservation Strategy for the Marbled Murrelet and Allow Harvest in Habitat Midway in Process

SB 5547 and HB 1546

SB 5547 and the companion House bill, HB 1546, will allow timber harvests inside alternatives currently under consideration for the Long-Term Conservation Strategy for the Marbled Murrelet, duplicate economic analysis already underway via a bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Chapman last year (HB 2285 – see 2018 report to the Legislature here), and undermine the multi-stakeholder Solutions Table convened by Commissioner Hilary Franz. The Marbled Murrelet Coalition letter lays out the problematic legal, scientific and policy implications of SB 5547 and HB 1546. Please consider writing your elected officials and asking that the Senate and House committees and members support the process underway at the Solutions Table. Click here to view the Committee hearing before the Senate—testimony at 1:28 into the hearing.

Trust Lands Transfer Program to Support Conservation Lands on the Olympic Peninsula

Commissioner Hilary Franz, Executive for the Department of Natural Resources for Washington state, submitted a Capital Budget request for funding the Trust Lands Transfer Program for 30 million dollars. This funding will support two important conservation projects in Jefferson County on the Olympic Peninsula—Dabob Bay and Devils Lake. OFCO has supported conservation lands for several years and funding is needed now (see lead partner Northwest Watershed Institute’s efforts to conserve Dabob Bay and Devils Lake). The funding allows trust beneficiaries to transfer timber lands into conservation in exchange for working timber lands that will generate revenue for important services. See OFCO’s letter of support for the Capital Budget Request. Please consider supporting the Trust Lands Transfer Program Capital Budget request. Write a brief message of support to Rep. Tharinger and track the Capital Budget through the process this session.

The Honorable Steve Tharinger, Chair
House Capital Budget Committee
Washington State Legislature
PO Box 40600
Olympia WA 98504-0600

Ghost Shrimp Pesticide Use Authorization May Have Lasting Effects for Other Olympic Peninsula Fisheries

Ghost shrimp are natural inhabitants of Northwest bays and coastal waters. The problem with pesticide application to remove ghost shrimp arises because the non-native oyster, which much of the industry uses, is larger and heavier than the native oyster, sinking the oyster and making it more vulnerable to ghost-shrimp burrowing. However, the burrows of ghost shrimp are home to a number of benthic inhabitants. Poisoning ghost shrimp with a neonic pesticide will also kill their guests, the zooplankton and ichthyoplankton in the waters moving across the tidelands. These are food sources for other fisheries that are commercially important, including some salmon species, sturgeon and Dungeness crab, which feed on the ghost shrimp and other zooplankton.

SB 5626 and companion bill HB 1611 will circumvent the environmental protections and procedures regulating environmental impacts for all fisheries. The Department of Ecology denied the application (Final Supplementary EIS, pg. 869, and references) of similar pesticides based on compelling research that indicated serious environmental effects in aquatic systems. The denial was not a political decision; rather it was based on serious scientific review of current information. For the past 30 years, the shellfish industry had used a similar pesticide until 2012/2013, when legal action prevented it from continuing its use. That pesticide has now been removed from the market altogether. A neonicotinoid with indications of serious toxicity that has already been banned in Europe and Canada is now proposed to be used in the same way.

Consider tracking this bill and voicing your opposition on the grounds that the impacts to other fisheries are not being well enough understood. See OFCO’s opposition to SB 5626 / HB 1611 authorizing the use of imidabloprid pesticide in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor.

Wolf Recovery in Washington State

OFCO supports HB 2097, a bill regarding gray wolf recovery, only with amendments that will shape wolf recovery for the state, including the Olympic Peninsula. OFCO does not support premature delisting of wolves before the wolves have recovered. Please consider following wolf policy and lending your support as needed this session. Click here to read OFCO’s letter.