Embattled seabird declining in Alaska

Posted: Tuesday, February 06, 2007

GRANTS PASS, Ore. - The marbled murrelet, a threatened sea bird whose rare trait of nesting in old-growth forests made it a factor in Northwest logging battles, is also declining dramatically in Alaska and Canada, where most of the birds live, a review released Monday by the federal government found.

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The review of existing population surveys by the U.S. Geological Survey was requested by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the Bush administration considers whether to take the marbled murrelet off the threatened species list in Oregon, Washington and California, where protection for the old-growth trees it nests in have dramatically reduced logging on some national forests.

The first comprehensive look at population surveys in Alaska and British Columbia found an overall decline of about 70 percent over the last 25 years, dropping the estimated population to 270,000 birds in Alaska and 54,000 to 92,000 birds in British Columbia.

The bird is not protected in Alaska.

Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Joan Jewett said they had received the USGS report, and were reviewing it.

There is no time set for making a decision on marbled murrelett protection.

USGS sea bird biologist John F. Piatt, lead author of the review, said none of the known human-caused threats to marbled murrelets _ loss of nesting trees to logging, getting caught in gillnets, and oil spills _ can by themselves explain the dramatic and widespread decline, particularly in Alaska.

"Nobody was really expecting that kind of change," Piatt said from Port Townsend, Wash. "Natural influences may be more important than human-caused," changes.

Even areas such as Alaska's Glacier Bay, where there has been no logging, saw dramatic declines, raising the likelihood that something larger was a major factor, he said.

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