The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has confirmed 1.6 million acres of mostly federal land in Washington are critical habitat for the marbled murrelet. The small, diving seabird, known as a “fog lark” to loggers, has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1992. Critical habitat for the bird was originally designated in 1996, then revised in 2011.
Ann Froschauer, public affairs supervisor at Washington’s office for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the agency has been reviewing the birds’ current critical habitat for the past year.
“We evaluated that previously-designated critical habitat against the new statutory definition, and we found that it did meet all of the things under the new definition,” she said.
The federally-designated marbled murrelet habitat includes seasonal habitat, and stretches nearly 3.7 million acres along the West Coast. According to the agency, there are about 7,500 marbled murrelets left in Washington.
However, Shawn Cantrell, the Northwest director for Defenders of Wildlife, called the decision a mixed bag for the birds. On the one hand, he said it’s significant that Fish and Wildlife didn’t undo some of the previous gains made for the species. On the other hand …
“We are disappointed that they didn’t take the opportunity to include additional habitat, some of the state and private lands as well as some of the marine areas,” he said. “It would have been valuable to see the Service include those as well.”
Cantrell said murrelets have been lost at higher rates on state land than federal land. He added the State of Washington is developing its own long-term habitat conservation plan for the marbled murrelet.
The small birds need large, connected areas of forestland in order to provide a buffer between their nests and predators. Cantrell said logging operations can be a threat to the murrelet’s survival.
“Even if you maintain some of the habitat but you have logging roads winding up through or in between them, the quality of them is much less, because you have all this edge habitat where the predators are,” he explained.