At its February 9, 2018, meeting, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to “uplist” the marbled murrelet’s status from a threatened to an endangered species. In deciding to reclassify the diving seabird as endangered, Oregon joins its neighboring U.S. states, Washington and California, each of which have decided to similarly reclassify the species in recent years. While the most immediate impact of the uplist decision will be on timber operations on state lands, the new classification of the marbled murrelet will likely also result in regulations on private timberlands after the preparation of a technical report by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and subsequent rulemaking by the Oregon Department of Forestry.
Proponents of the uplisting proposal cited loss of habitat due to timber operations in coastal forests as a key factor in the need to classify the species as endangered. However, opponents of the uplisting advocated further investigation before putting in place stringent regulations, citing an ongoing 10-year study by Oregon State University and recent data showing that the murrelet’s population has been stable from 2002 to 2015. They also point to other challenges facing the murrelet that are unrelated to logging, including warming ocean waters, ocean acidification, oil spills, and loss of habitat from wildfires.
Timberland owners can take immediate comfort in the fact that the ODF’s rulemaking will occur after the ODFW report is completed, a task that is expected to take 18-24 months. However, landowners and forest-products companies in Oregon should take this opportunity to contact their Ally Law environmental lawyer to review their options.