May 31, 2012
The Oregonian by Scott Learn
Three conservation groups sued Gov. John Kitzhaber and Oregon agencies today in federal court, charging that logging in three Coast Range state forests is killing or displacing protected marbled murrelets.
The lawsuit requests an injunction to halt logging — including a host of currently planned sales — that could threaten the rare seabirds in the Tillamook, Clatsop and Elliott state forests until the state gets an incidental take permit under the Endangered Species Act.
Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Audubon Society of Portland filed the suit.
West Coast populations of marbled murrelets have declined because of logging, the groups say. A 2009 status review estimated that the population dropped to 18,000 birds in 2008, a 26 percent decline from 2002.
Marbled murrelets, listed as threatened under the ESA in 1992, are robin-sized seabirds that forage in the ocean but nest in mature or old growth forests.
State officials say they take prudent measures to avoid harming murrelets. According to department documents, officials conduct about 1,500 surveys for murrelets annually and manage forests through a "take avoidance" policy.
In an April 2011 report to the Oregon Board of Forestry, the department said it has designated more than 20,000 acres as murrelet management areas in northwest Oregon.
But the conservation groups say logging in managed areas has killed or displaced murrelets and fragmented their habitat. The logging includes some clearcuts as well as thinning projects that increase blow-down of trees in the birds' habitat, the groups say.
Logging near the edges of murrelet habitat increases raids on their nests from jays, ravens and crows, the lawsuit says.
In 2009, Oregon abandoned a habitat conservation plan that would have better protected the birds. The state has also approved increased logging in state forests to boost timber jobs and money for school, county and state services.
Washington and California, the lawsuit says, both have more protective forest practice rules in place.