Marbled murrelet to retain “threatened” status

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This is actually good news, in the face of endless logging industry efforts to get it delisted – it ain’t happening, bitches – and years of the Bush administration’s stalling, foot dragging, and outright defiance of logic and the law.

From the USFWS: Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) 5-Year Review

That is over a hundred pages. Here is the heart of Section 2.4, a synthesis of the whole review:

With declines documented separately for Conservation Zones 1 through 5 and Conservation Zone 6, we conclude that the listed population has declined significantly since 2002, the year of the estimate in the Service’s previous 5-year review (McShane et al. 2004). Based on the tristate estimate of about 24,400 birds used in the earlier 5-year review (USFWS 2004, p. 18), the 2008 population estimate of about 18,000 birds represents a decline of about 26 percent across the listed range from that estimate. This is significant new information regarding population size and trend.

The species decline has been largely caused by extensive removal of late-successional and old growth coastal forest which serve as nesting habitat for murrelets. Additional factors in its decline include high nest-site predation rates and human-induced mortality in the marine environment from disturbance, gillnets, and oil spills. In addition, murrelet reproductive success is strongly correlated with the abundance of mid-trophic level prey. Effects to the marine environment that impact the availability of that prey can occur through overfishing or oceanographic variation from weather or climate events. Affects to adults in the marine environment from disturbance events like underwater detonations or pile driving can also impact their ability to forage and successfully provide for their young.

The recovery criteria for this species have not been met. The existing criteria were meant to be interim until further information was gathered to determine the specific delisting criteria. This information included murrelet population size, trends and demographic goals for each Conservation Zone; the quantity, quality, and distribution of nesting and marine habitats and prey populations within each zone necessary to achieve recovery goals; and detailed studies of the survivorship and productivity of murrelets. While data collection and research has been ongoing in these areas, we have only just determined population trend information for the murrelet. Information on the other research needs is still forthcoming. When available, this information should be used to revise the recovery criteria.

Based on the evaluation of the threats and the murrelet’s population status and trends we have determined that the murrelet should remain listed as threatened. However we remain concerned about the apparent substantial downward trend of the population and the species’ continued vulnerability from a broad range of threats across its entire listed range. Although some threats have been reduced, most continue unabated and new threats now strain the ability of the murrelet to successfully reproduce. In summary, if reproductive success continues to be too low to sustain the population, the observed population trends continue to decline significantly and manmade and natural threats continue at current or increased levels, a change in listing status to endangered may be warranted in the future.

And the Recommendations for future actions:

  • Because the recovery plan is greater than 10 years old and information regarding threats and population has changed, a revision of the recovery plan is warranted.
  • Information regarding marine threats, and general life history including reproduction is lacking, therefore research on these topics is needed.
  • Further examine marbled murrelet population trends in the coastal redwood zone, given the magnitude and imminence of threats

The FWS also finally declares the American poplulation in the lower 48 a Distinct Popluation Segment. All this should – should – put an end to the nonsense forestry industry petition to delist. It is also nice to see that the Obama administration’s vocabulary includes the word habitat, a stunning change from the last eight years.

(In case the Zone business is bothering anyone, the MM Recovery Plan divided the bird’s continental US range into six zones with different geography, human inputs, etc. Zone 1 is Puget Sound, 2 the Pacific Coast of Washington, 3 the Oregon coast from the mouth of the Columbia to Coos Bay (technically to North Bend), 4 Coos Bay south through Humboldt County CA, 5 from Humboldt County line to SF Bay, 6 from SF Bay to Point Sur.)

Whatever one thinks of the Obama administration’s hope-a-dope strategy in dealing with environmental issues, it does at least respond to a direct court order, unlike Bushco. Last week, in response to a successful suit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the USFWS finally coughed up asessments on the state of polar bear and walrus, some six years after they were due according to the Marine Mammals Protection Act.

The news is all bad. And note, this has nothing to do with global warming. From CBD’s press release Polar Bear and Walrus Populations in Trouble: Federal Studies Show Tenuous Future for Arctic Icons:

For the Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear stock, the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated a minimum population of 1,397 bears and an annual human-caused mortality of 54 animals, well above the calculated sustainable rate of 22 animals per year. The stock assessment states that “the Southern Beaufort Sea population is now declining.”

For the Chukchi/Bering Sea polar bear stock, the Service estimated a minimum population of 2,000 bears and an annual human-caused mortality of 37 animals from Alaska and between 150-250 bears killed per year in Russia. The calculated sustainable rate of harvest is 30 animals per year. The stock assessment states that “the population is believed to be declining” and is “reduced based on harvest levels that were demonstrated to be unsustainable.”

For the Pacific walrus, the Service estimated a minimum population of 15,164 animals and an annual human-caused mortality of between 4,963 and 5,460 animals. The calculated sustainable rate of harvest is 607 animals per year.

There is a direct link to the assessment at the CBD site, but it doesn’t seem to be working lately. Perhaps Sarah’s thrown a mukluk into the gears somehow.

On a happier note, Russia announced this week a new Russian Arctic Park, some 1.5 million hectares (5800 square miles), an industry-free sanctuary for the Russian populations of the polar bear.

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2 Responses to “Marbled murrelet to retain “threatened” status”

  1. Stemella Says:

    This is great news! Baked potato with a beak haha good one.

    I have a friend who spent years and years way the hell up in trees thinning, making murrelet habitat. He even nearly died doing it and can’t climb anymore. He’ll be happy to know all his work was not for nothing.

  2. artemis54 Says:

    My favorite description of the marbled murrelet, from a biologist who was fascinated enough to spend years studying them: “A baked potato with a beak.”

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