Conservation groups urged the Obama administration Wednesday to keep logging restrictions in place for nearly 4 million acres of coastal forests in the Pacific Northwest.
Otherwise, they say a threatened species of seabird could be at greater risk of extinction.
It’s the latest step in a dispute involving conservation groups, the timber industry, and the federal agency charged with protecting species designated as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
The seagoing marbled murrelet was designated as a threatened species in 1992. The robin-sized bird spends most of its life at sea, but nests in the moss of old-growth trees in coastal forests of Washington, Oregon and California.
In 2011, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revised its plan for protecting the marbled murrelet. It dropped its critical habitat designation for a small percentage of the roughly 4 million acres of forestland with that protection status. That change involved forestland in southern Oregon and northern California.
Forests designated as critical habitat for marbled murrelets are restricted to activities, including logging, that could remove or damage the trees used for nesting and rearing fledging murrelets.
The timber industry challenged that 2011 plan’s critical habitat designations and the murrelet’s federally protected status as a threatened species.
In response, the Obama administration’s Fish and Wildlife Service came out this summer with a legal settlement agreement that temporarily eliminates the critical habitat protections on forests where murrelets nest.
The service said in its legal filing that it wants to set aside the critical habitat designation until it can submit a new plan in 2017. The delay is necessary, the service says, because of its strained budget and heavy court-ordered workload.
“Vacating the critical habitat designation in the interim will not harm the marbled murrelet or fail to ensure that its conservation needs are adequately provided for,” wrote Gary Frazer, the service’s assistant director for endangered species.
The plan is awaiting court approval.
Twenty-one conservation groups responded Wednesday. They sent a letter to the White House and the Fish and Wildlife Service calling on the feds to drop that plan.
The Portland-based Center For Biological Diversity’s Noah Greenwald signed the letter.
“We’d like them to withdraw from the settlement agreement before the court rules on it and fight to maintain the protections that murrelets urgently need to survive and recover,” Greenwald said.
Fish and Wildlife spokesman Doug Zimmer said the service is committed to protecting murrelets and the habitat they need to survive.
Zimmer said he could not comment on conservationists’ request because it pertains to ongoing litigation.
Congrats to David James for his winning submission, 'Annabella smelling the Balsam.'
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