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The Marbled Murrelet Bureaucratic Dance

by Marcy Golde

What’s been happening in the nearly endless story of the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) trying to, or not trying to, protect the Marbled Murrelet while harvesting timber to support its various beneficiaries? Since the DNR’s overall management plan was adopted in 1997, the murrelet has declined 44 percent. That plan required the development of a strategy to protect the murrelet. The first scoping draft was issued in 2006, but nothing happened. Planning for the murrelet started up again in 2011; it continues today and will for at least two more years.

If you have been tuned into OFCO’s communications lately, you know that there have been two big draft plans from DNR, which called us to hearings and to writing comments, both over the December holiday season. One plan was on the Marbled Murrelet Long-Term Conservation Strategy, and the other on the amount and type of timber harvest to be done over the next decade, called the Sustainable Harvest Calculation.

OFCO joined a group of seven environmental organizations to submit more than 276 pages of technical and legal comments. DNR received more than 5,200 comments on the murrelet; the Harvest Calculation drew more than 1,300. The magnitude of the response shows that management of the State’s forests is of real public interest.

Apart from the impressive number of responses, what did OFCO and the other environmental groups request? We found the alternatives presented in the two documents to be totally inadequate, so we created our own Conservation Alternative for the murrelet and made it part of our harvest comments too. We insisted that our Conservation Alternative be fully analyzed and considered along with the other alternatives, probably as a supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

Our alternative called for larger buffers, more habitat, additional conservation areas, and better protection of mature and old-growth forest. It objected to the other alternatives requiring too much harvest of murrelet habitat and not providing enough conservation to stabilize the population. It included a request to analyze the impacts on the murrelet of Navy training flights over the Olympic Peninsula. It also requested a full analysis of the Conservation Alternative, and no new Harvest Calculation without an adopted murrelet policy.

In comments on the Sustainable Harvest Calculation DEIS, we addressed a variety of ways to increase the revenue to the beneficiaries from each timber sale and requested establishing a broad-based high-level planning group to address the revenue needs of the county and school beneficiaries affected by murrelet protection.

What’s Next?

The Board of Natural Resources (BNR), and Commissioner Franz, seem to have decided to select the Preferred Alternative at the July meeting. This action would be a rejection of the Conservation Alternative—and disregard for the testimony of the EPA and the WA Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Those agencies affirmed the need for significant habitat additions to all the alternatives considered in the DEIS, in agreement with details of the Conservation Alternative.

The Conservation Caucus has written to the Commissioner and the BNR opposing the selection of a Preferred Alternative without a full analysis and consideration of the EPA and WDFW requests and the Conservation Alternative.

Whether the BNR will adopt a new Sustainable Harvest Calculation without a finalized murrelet plan is unclear. In all cases timber cutting continues—as does the decline of the Marbled Murrelet, at the current rate of 4 percent per year!

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