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Judge sides with seabird as timber forces lose again

A federal judge has extended protection for endangered marbled murrelets such as this one. (Associated Press)
A federal judge has extended protection for endangered marbled murrelets such as this one. (Associated Press)
Steven Dubois Associated Press

PORTLAND – A federal judge has handed the timber industry another defeat in its effort to expand logging on the habitat of a threatened coastal seabird.

U.S. District Court Judge John Bates in Washington, D.C., said marbled murrelets will keep their Endangered Species Act listing, and rejected an argument that central California murrelets, which are doing poorly, should not be lumped in with the populations in Oregon, Washington and Northern California.

Bates also ruled old-growth forest habitat will remain protected during a three-year period when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service re-examines what it considers a flawed 1996 critical habitat designation.

“The court is not in a position to fully assess the seriousness of the deficiencies or to predict whether or how the new designation will differ from the current designation,” Bates said in an opinion Thursday.

The marbled murrelet was listed as threatened in 1992, and habitat protection has meant less logging in the Pacific Northwest. The tiny seabirds venture inland to raise their young and depend on old-growth forests for nesting.

“The timber industry keeps pushing to log this bird’s habitat and is using, I think, increasingly desperate tactics to try to say that we shouldn’t be protecting this bird and its habitat,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney for Earthjustice. “I think it’s time for timber to figure how to live with this bird.”

The lawsuit was the timber industry’s fourth attempt in the past decade to eliminate protections for the forests that marbled murrelets call home.

The lawsuit was brought by the American Forest Resource Council, Carpenters Industrial Council and Oregon’s Douglas County.

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