The release of the final EIS for the Marbled Murrelet Long-Term Conservation Strategy will allow the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to set rules to manage public lands across western Washington and provide habitat for the seabird while also guaranteeing “a regular, sustainable revenue stream” for public school construction and rural counties.
Following the release of the final EIS, the Board of Natural Resources can select a final conservation strategy that works best for the seabird and communities.
The release states that the board’s preferred alternative, Alternative H, will protect 59,000 acres of occupied marbled murrelet sites where murrelets have been sighted and 58,000 acres of forestland set aside specifically for the bird. Within this protected forestland, there are 78,000 acres of current marbled murrelet habitat.
This habitat is in addition to 90,000 acres of non-revenue-generating DNR forestland that is also suitable murrelet habitat. These are forests in protected natural areas, areas unsuitable for logging, or lands with very high conservation value. In total, 168,000 acres of current murrelet habitat will be protected (78,000 + 90,000).
Further, DNR estimates that – over the next 50 years – additional protected DNR forestland will become suitable murrelet habitat. This will occur as forests mature and grow the complex older forests preferred by the marbled murrelet.
The addition of this habitat means that, in 50 years, there would be 272,000 acres of marbled murrelet habitat on state lands.
Alternative H is also said to free up more than 100,000 acres of forestland for the first time in 20 years, allowing the lands to be managed in order to generate revenue for rural communities as well as create family-wage jobs.
Timber harvests have not been allowed in these areas pending the selection of final conservation strategy.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the marbled murrelet as a threatened species in 1992, with DNR signing a Habitat Conservation Plan with Fish and Wildlife in 1997 that contained an interim strategy for the marbled murrelet. The long-term strategy in the final EIS will replace that interim strategy.
DNR states that they manage 14 percent of existing marbled murrelet habitat in Washington state. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers DNR-managed land in Clallam, Pacific, and Wahkiakum counties to be important habitat to the conservation of the species, of which approximately 6,000 are believed to remain in Washington state.
The final EIS, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to publish in the Federal Register on September 27, is intended to satisfy the environmental review requirements of both the State Environmental Policy Act and National Environmental Policy Act.
DNR next anticipates a final decision from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on whether to approve DNR’s application for an incidental take permit for the marbled murrelet. Once an incidental take permit is approved, the Board of Natural Resources, which sets policies to guide DNR’s land and resource management, will select a final conservation strategy from those included in the final EIS.