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Update: Marbled Murrelet Long Term Conservation Strategy

By Charlotte Persons

On Thursday and Friday, August 17 and 18, 2017, four members of WHAS Conservation Committee attended the Board of Natural Resources’ special meeting in Cathlamet, WA.  Larry Brandt, WHAS president, was able to go on the BNR field trip on Thursday to many different sites in rural Pacific and Wahkiakum Counties. The goal of the field trip was to learn about different kinds of habitat and how they support now, or could in the future, Marbled Murrelet (MAMU) for breeding success.

As you probably know, MAMU are endangered in its entire range from California to Alaska, but numbers have been declining at 3-4% per year for over a decade in Washington State, especially in southwest Washington. Studies have shown that while ocean conditions are important, the principle factor in their disappearance is logging of the old growth forests that MAMU use for breeding.

On Friday, Larry, Gloria Nichols, Sherry Hawkins and Charlotte Persons attended the BNR meeting 9:00—12:00 at Julia Wendt Elementary School.  At this meeting members of the BNR discussed what calculations of timber harvest mean for the six different alternatives proposed for the Long Term Conservation Strategy, a MAMU habitat plan for the next 50 years. As you may know, in previous meetings the BNR decided not to consider additional alternatives, one proposed by a coalition of environmental groups and one proposed by timber interests.

Department of Natural Resources trust lands are only 9% of MAMU habitat in the state, but only DNR trust lands have suitable MAMU habitat in SW Washington. The Endangered Species Act requires that the state of Washington create a long-term plan that will do no harm to the Marbled Murrelet and will lead to its recovery.

Charts of the six alternatives were presented at the meeting and on-line at

http://www.dnr.wa.gov/publications/em_bc_bnr_mm_shc_081817_presentation.pdf. From these charts, it was clear that for the Long Term Conservation Strategy to meet EPA criteria, a lot of DNR land will have to be protected (alternatives E and F), and the SW Washington counties will bear a disproportionate loss compared to other Washington counties in terms of both their percentage of the timber harvest and their revenues. This creates a dilemma for the BNR, which is charged by the 150-year-old state constitution to create trust land policies that benefit equitably all counties and other beneficiaries.

Commissioner of Public Lands Vance reminded the board of the advantages of a Long Term Conservation Strategy for state owned or managed trust lands—the federal Environmental Protection Agency will allow some “take” of MAMU from timbering, and trust beneficiaries and timbering companies will have confidence about what will and will not be allowed for timber harvests.

After much discussion, the BNR decided to ask BNR staff to go back and calculate “metering” for the timber harvest calculations – this means looking at the effect of using differing strategies at different times in various DNR lands. For example, perhaps harvesting less timber for twenty years and then more timber after that will be acceptable to the EPA for DNR lands that are near federal lands—in 20 years the NW Forest Plan will have produced more mature forest suitable for MAMU breeding habitat on federally-owned lands. Of course while this strategy would help some rural counties, it would not help those in SW Washington where there are no federal lands.

Another mandate to staff was to create two new alternatives – one would do the utmost to conserve the MAMU and the other would maximize timber harvests for all beneficiaries equally.  Staff must report on the economic consequences of each of the two alternatives for all counties and other trust beneficiaries, including employment and private timber mills’ volume of business as well as direct income from DNR trust lands’ timber harvest.

Armed with this information, the commissioner will ask the governor and legislature for help to create a solution that will protect the economic interests of all beneficiaries as well as a habitat protection plan that will meet EPA standards.

Over the years WHAS in all its written and oral testimony to the BNR has emphasized that we want to see the Marbled Murrelet thrive and increase in SW Washington.  At the same time WHAS wants to be confident that residents of Cowlitz, Wahkiakum and Pacific and other rural counties do not suffer from a economic downturn nor from a lack of funding of vital public services, especially schools.

The BNR apparently shares those twin objectives, but the test will come at the September BNR meeting, when the board has said it will make a decision on the Long Term Conservation Strategy.