Once Threatened, Now Endangered – the Uplisting of the Marbled Murrelet in Oregon

The marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratusis a small seabird that nests in old-growth and late-successional forests along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to central California. In 1992, the marbled murrelet was listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and was listed as threatened under the Oregon ESA in 1995. The seabird is currently listed as state-endangered in both Washington and California. 

On February 9, 2018, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4-2 to support the uplisting proposal and reclassify the marbled murrelet as endangered. This decision will affect lands owned, managed, and leased by state agencies but will have no direct impacts on private landowners.  

Photo by U.S. Forest Service Martin Raphael

The primary cause of the marbled murrelet’s continued decline is the loss and fragmentation of older forest habitat on which the seabird depends for nesting. While laws and regulations have minimized further habitat loss on federal lands under the federal endangered ESA listing, the state’s threatened listing has allowed logging of old-growth forests to continue within state- and privately-owned lands. The loss of forest has slowed, but not halted, since the 1990s, and great losses have occurred on lands managed by the state. The uplisting of the species to endangered is viewed as an important step towards the recovery of a dwindling species. 

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will now need to develop survival guidelines, which are quantifiable and measurable guidelines to ensure the survival of individual members of the species. These guidelines will serve as interim protections until affected state agencies develop and adopt endangered species management plans. For a species that straddles habitats on land and at sea, marbled murrelets are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and can use all the protection they can get to survive.