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Saving The Fish And The Birds

It’s looking like a good week for Oregon’s native little fish and its potato-shaped sea birds. News that the diminutive Oregon chub is slated to be removed from the endangered species list is making big headlines, and a just-announced settlement between the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) and environmental groups means more hope for the threatened marbled murrelet, a sea bird that nests in Oregon’s coastal old-growth forests. 

If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to remove the Oregon chub from the list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is finalized, then the chub would be the first fish delisted due to recovery. The nationwide announcement was made at the McKenzie River Trust’s Berggren Watershed Conservation area near to where the chub were found in 2001 on the trust’s Big Island property. Prior to that, Oregon chub were last documented in the McKenzie River watershed in 1899.

Marbled murrelets, on the other hand, are still struggling not to drop from threatened to endangered status on the ESA, and Josh Laughlin of Cascadia Wildlands is hoping a settlement with ODF will help the small sea birds, which can fly up to 90 miles per hour. 

Cascadia Wildlands and other environmental groups sued to stop logging in coastal state forests and protect the murrelet in 2012. Laughlin says the settlement means the “state is canceling 28 reckless old-growth timber sales” in its forests occupied by the marbled murrelet. He says 26 of those sales are in the Elliott State Forest south of Eugene. He says the state has also revised its “take” policy, making its policy on killing or harming the birds “much more robust.” Previously he says the state was “essentially playing fast and loose with the law.”

Michael Kron of Oregon Department of Justice, which represents ODF, says, “The parties have jointly informed the court that we expect the case to be resolved within 21 days.”

There will be more public accountability when it comes to logging in murrelet-occupied forests, Laughlin says, and rather than making “Swiss cheese” of the forests and “postage stamp-sized” murrelet reserves, there will be contiguous habitat around the stands of trees in which the threatened birds are found.

The settlement will provide immediate relief for imperiled murrelet, Laughlin says, which have declined at a rate of 4 percent a year, mainly due to habitat loss. 

Cascadia Wildlands is also working on the issue of the 3,000 acres in the Elliott that the State Land Board voted to sell in December 2013. Laughlin says there is a sealed-bid process going on, the results of which will be released March 28. 

Laughlin says if those public lands are sold for logging “it would be horrible for the Elliott,” but if they are sold into conservation and “preserved for Oregonians and critters teetering on the brink of extinction” then it could be the “conservation feat of the century.”