MEDFORD, Ore. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency announced Tuesday it is lifting protection from about 190,000 acres of land in Northern California and Southern Oregon that was once considered critical habitat for the marbled murrelet (FWS profile of marbled murrelet).
The agency says surveys and research suggested the habitat wasn’t actually ideal for the threatened birds. Almost 4 million acres of coastal forest in the Northwest is still considered critical to the murrelet’s survival and recovery.
The marbled murrelet (murrelet photo gallery) is a seabird that flies inland to coastal old growth forests to build its nests, instead of using rocks and cliffs like most other seabirds. The murrelet population from Northern California to Washington was listed as threatened in 1992. The birds mature slowly and only lay a single egg a year. They face a number of human caused threats, including oil spills, old growth habitat loss, and drowning in fishing nets.
“When this bird was first listed, we knew little about it apart from the fact that its population was declining,” says Doug Zimmer, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service. “A lot of what we know was based on surmise. We hadn’t even photographed a nest or chicks until the mid-1990s.”
Zimmer says biologists have learned that murrelets primarily nest within 35 miles of the coast, and that protection has been lifted for some habitat further inland.
“Initially we found a few nests 50 miles inland,” Zimmer says. “But after extensive survey work, we discovered that the birds weren’t there, or were there in low numbers, but they weren’t using the habitat in the way we thought they would.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates about 16,000 marbled murrelets live in the Pacific Northwest. According to Zimmer, the designated critical habitat is extensive enough to support the population if begins to recover and grow. But murrelets are not recovering. Their population continues to decline (FWS press release) by about 3.7 percent a year.
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