Lawsuit filed over Marbled Murrelets at Big Basin Redwoods

Today the Center for Biological Diversity (Center) filed suit against California State Parks over its refusal to take steps to protect the critically imperiled central coast population of the Marbled Murrelet in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. We understand why the Center has brought this case and we agree with many of their concerns. The present course of the Department is not up to the task of protecting this area of great importance to the Marbled Murrelets of the Central Coast. (photo of Big Basin Redwoods State Park by Miguel Vieira)

The lawsuit cites violations of the California Environmental Quality Act and the California Endangered Species Act. Audubon California joined with the Center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other experts in raising the issues to State Parks that form the basis of this legal action.

The Marbled Murrelet requires old growth coastal redwood and sitka spruce forest for hosting their cryptic nests hidden high on a flat tree branch in a tree normally 800 or more years old. It is the only seabird known to nest in trees, and its old growth habitat in California is dramatically reduced to less than 5% of historic extent. In central California, State Parks holds the vast majority of murrelet nesting habitat and Big Basin is at the heart of this habitat.

After decades of decline, less than 600 individual birds exist in this population and these birds suffer from low breeding success. In rare consensus on a conservation science issue  (here) and (here), experts unanimously agree on the steps needed to reverse this decline- primarily, making changes to park management and use that will reduce the numbers of jays, crows and ravens in the Park that are predating heavily on murrelet nests.

Audubon California worked closely with the Center and scientific experts over the past several years as the Parks revised its General Plan for Big Basin. This was the best opportunity for Parks to evaluate options to protect murrelets while maintaining ample recreational opportunity for visitors. Audubon chapters including Santa Clara Valley and Monterrey weighed in, as did over 1200 Audubon activists in California (thank you!).

Unfortunately, State Parks, and the State Park and Recreation Commission, instead chose to ignore the warnings of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Center and Audubon California, that failure to better protect murrelets would put State Parks on a collision course with the Endangered Species Act and the California Environmental Quality Act. In May the Commission voted to approve the General Plan with minimal adjustments.

Despite our difference with State Parks on this issue, we stand ready to work with them to provide a better solution for the birds and the recreational public.

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