Settlement Will Reduce Threats to Marbled Murrelet From Garbage, Predators
SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity reached a settlement agreement today with the California Department of Parks and Recreation that will substantially increase protections in the Santa Cruz Mountains for the marbled murrelet, an endangered seabird that nests in old-growth forests. Today’s settlement requires the agency to reduce dangers posed by visitor trash, which harms murrelets by unnaturally increasing the abundance of predators that eat eggs and chicks.
“This settlement is great news for murrelets in the Santa Cruz Mountains,” said Shaye Wolf, a Center biologist. “These remarkable seabirds are dangerously close to extinction, and many park visitors would be shocked to learn that their trash adds to this decline. The new protections will help make sure murrelets have a safe place to nest in our state parks again.”
In June 2013 the Center filed suit challenging the state’s inadequate protections for marbled murrelets under its new management plan for Big Basin Redwoods State Park, a heavily visited park that supports the largest remaining old-growth nesting habitat in the central coast region. Visitor garbage in campgrounds and picnic areas in Big Basin and two other redwood state parks has led to unnaturally high densities of ravens and Steller’s jays that eat murrelet eggs and chicks. Scientists have found that high nest predation is a primary factor driving the declines of murrelets in the region.
Today’s agreement requires comprehensive measures to protect marbled murrelets in Big Basin Redwoods, Portola and Butano state parks, including:
- Comprehensive trash management requiring animal-proof food-storage lockers at all campsites, installation of indoor dishwashing stations, and increased trash pickup to prevent dumpster overflow.
- Extensive public outreach that makes the murrelet a focal point of the parks, including signs, displays and videos in English and Spanish in all visitor areas to inform the public about how to avoid harming murrelets.
- Annual monitoring of marbled murrelet status and predator numbers and a comprehensive assessment every three years requiring further action if murrelet status does not improve.
Marbled murrelets are one of California’s most unusual seabirds, flying from the ocean to nest in ancient coastal redwood forests. They lay a single egg and rear their chick on the thick, mossy branches of old-growth redwoods and firs. Marbled murrelets have been called the “enigmas of the Pacific” because their old-growth nesting sites remained undiscovered by scientists until the 1970s.
The marbled murrelet is listed as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act and threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. There are only about 450 murrelets in the Santa Cruz Mountains region, making this the most endangered and southernmost population on the West Coast. The population has lost 95 percent of its old-growth habitat due to logging, and most remaining nesting habitat is found within three redwood state parks: Big Basin, Portola and Butano.
Despite extensive efforts by the Center for Biological Diversity, Audubon California, and allies to increase protections for murrelets, State Parks adopted a management plan for Big Basin Redwoods State Park in May 2013 that it acknowledged would have “significant” negative impacts on murrelets, but failed to require binding measures to avoid or reduce these harms.
The Center filed suit in June 2013 challenging the Big Basin plan’s violation of the California Environmental Quality Act and the California Endangered Species Act for failing to properly consider less harmful project alternatives or require mitigation measures to avoid or reduce harms to the murrelet and its habitat. Today’s settlement agreement is the outcome of this lawsuit.