The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has upheld protections for 3.7 million acres of critical habitat for federally-threatened Marbled Murrelets of the Pacific Northwest, after a challenge by a timber industry group.
Long a mystery, scientists discovered in the 1970s that Marbled Murrelets depend on the large, mossy branches of old-growth trees for nesting, after spending most of their lives foraging in coastal waters. Nesting habitat in the Pacific Northwest declined significantly due to commercial old-growth logging, leading to an Endangered Species Act listing in 1992, and the designation of critical habitat in 1996.
The American Forest Resource Council challenged this habitat designation in court, leading to a review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Critical habitat designations are required to be considered for species listed under the Endangered Species Act, representing areas “essential to the conservation of the species”.
Audubon submitted public comment in support of maintaining the critical habitat, while also encouraging additional marine designations in the Pacific Ocean to help protect needed habitat in foraging and resting areas. While the FWS did not add new critical habitat, the affirmation of the current habitat represents good news for this imperiled bird.