Conservation plan for native seabird moves forward

Washington state regulations for the marbled murrelet have been in limbo since 1997.

Habitat for the marbled murrelet in King County includes areas around the Middle and North Forks of the Snoqualmie River, as well as areas around the Skykomish and Upper Cedar rivers. File photo

Habitat for the marbled murrelet in King County includes areas around the Middle and North Forks of the Snoqualmie River, as well as areas around the Skykomish and Upper Cedar rivers. File photo

A small, elusive sea bird has been at the heart of a sweeping habitat conservation plan in Washington, and after two decades, the state could have a comprehensive management plan for the marbled murrelet.

The seabird has long evaded researchers, with its first nest being found in the 197os. The murrelet spends most of its life at sea and returns to coastal land only to nest and breed in old-growth forests within 55 miles of marine water. Its habitat ranges from the Aleutian Islands down the Pacific coast to California. King County is included in its inland range.

When they do make their way inland, the birds need tall trees with thick branches that are only found in old-growth forests. In 1997, Washington state signed a federal agreement to protect the habitat of endangered species, and one of these species was the marbled murrelet. Interim rules were enacted, but these came with restrictions on timber harvests.

Timber in Washington state supports more than local economies. The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has trusts that help pay for services such as schools and firefighters across the state, and especially in rural counties. For many in economically depressed, rural corners of Western Washington, the marbled murrelet is viewed as one of many reasons why the logging industry has been shrinking.

While there’s much more habitat for the birds elsewhere in the state, some habitat exists in King County. This includes areas around the Middle and North Forks of the Snoqualmie River, as well as areas around the Skykomish and Upper Cedar rivers, according to a King County habitat map. Even before 2008, several spottings were reported in woodlands east of North Bend.

The state DNR released a final environmental impact statement in late September that lays out several alternatives. The preferred alternative would protect existing habitat managed by the agency as well as an additional 37,000 acres. It would also open up other acreage across the state for timber harvest.

Not everyone is happy with the proposal with county officials in rural Lewis and Wahkiakum counties sounding off.

However, DNR commissioner Hilary Franz said she believes their preferred option strikes a balance between preserving habitat and fulfilling its fiduciary responsibility to fund trust accounts.

“We are now moving forward and taking action to invest in the success of the marbled murrelet while also ensuring revenue for our schools and counties,” she said.

The DNR manages around 700,000 acres of forest land for county beneficiaries. Most counties receive some funding, but this funding is more significant for rural counties and junior taxing districts. In King County, some state-managed forestland exists near North Bend as well as to the east of Black Diamond near the Cedar River watershed. Some 10,000 acres of state trust land in King County are managed by the DNR. Under the proposed alternative, there would be no new acreage opened up to harvest.

“In many cases, especially in rural counties, these revenues go directly to rural county services that are important to those populations, and so we really spent a good amount of time making sure we don’t disproportionately impact those,” said DNR’s Forest Resources Division manager Andrew Hayes.

Hayes said the state undertook significant research to understand the marbled murrelet, and while they’ve been researching it for two decades, there’s still much left unknown about the species.

The DNR partnered with federal Forest Service researchers and experts from across the West Coast in the mid-2000s to study the birds. Much foundational research was conducted, including nesting needs and range. This was incorporated into the final environmental impact statement.

“We want to make sure people understand that this strategy is based on the best available science,” Hayes said. “We think it’s a good, science-based proposal.”

The plan will now be submitted to the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife for approval. If accepted, the board of the state DNR could approve it by year’s end.

More in News

Issaquah family held hostage is released

Issaquah Police brought in the Crisis Negotiation Team to assist in hostage negotiation.

New Issaquah utility rates, assistance programs

Cost increase and low-income support in 2020.

Federal Way resident Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens, 17, died Jan. 27, 2017. Courtesy photo
Law enforcement challenges report on sting operation that killed Federal Way teen

King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight’s findings rattle Sheriff’s Office, police union.

Unstable housing? Apply for Section 8

Applications open in February for housing vouchers

In 2018, the city of Seattle approved and then repealed a head tax within a month. It would have levied a $275 per employee tax on businesses grossing more than $20 million annually. Sound Publishing file photo
County head tax bill passes committee

Bill would let King County levy a tax on businesses to fund housing and address homelessness.

Gov. Jay Inslee signs the first bill of the 2020 legislative session into law. On the right stands the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, who is wearing a red tie. Photo by Cameron Sheppard, WNPA News Service
Gov. Inslee signs tax bill to help fund higher education

Law shifts a portion of the tax burden to large tech companies.

King County Metro’s battery-electric bus. Photo courtesy of kingcounty.gov
King County Metro bus fleet will be electrified by 2035

Future base in South King County would house hundreds of the zero-emission vehicles.

Three-quarters of the suicide deaths among children ages 10 to 14 are caused by firearms, according to a new report from the Firearm Injury and Policy Research Program at the University of Washington. File photo
King County studies youth gun violence amid rising suicides

It’s unclear what’s driving the trend.

A King County work crew clears a road near Preston on Feb. 7, 2020. Heavy rains appear to have caused multiple landslides along the road. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
The future could look a lot like this year’s flood season

Climate change is expected to lead to more winter flooding in King County.

Theo Koshar, Janet McIntosh and Robin Kelley of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery work to find road drains and clear them of leaves, outside the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery in Issaquah, WA on Feb. 6, 2020. Mitchell Atencio/Staff Photo
Rapid rainfall has led to flooding, impacting all parts of King County.

County warns residents to obey barricades for safety.

Newport Way Southwest between Front Street South and Wildwood Blvd Southwest is closed due to phase 4 flooding. Photo courtesy of City of Issaquah Twitter
Heavy rainfall leads to phase 4 flood warnings in Issaquah

The rainfall should be cresting by early afternoon and the flood warning is expected to be lifted by 6 p.m. tonight, according to the NWS.

Sound Publishing file photo
King County Council could place roads levy lift on 2020 ballot

Levy could increase taxes for a median home by about $224 a year.