Proposed plan for old growth redwoods in Big Basin State Park would further imperil marbled murrelets in Central California

Last week California State Parks released its new General Plan and Environmental Impact Report for Big Basin State Park in Santa Cruz County. The Park has the largest stand of old growth redwood south of San Francisco, and harbors the vast majority of remaining  central coast marbled murrelet. It is literally the key to the future for this population, which is genetically distinct from marbled murrelets to the north, and is classified as “highly imperiled” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The proposed Plan is a big disappointment to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Audubon California, and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), all of whom submitted letters on the Plan during the comment period. Fortunately, there is time to change the Plan- and you can help.

The marbled murrelet is robin-sized seabird with an amazing and unique life history. Unlike other seabirds which nest primarily on islands, marbled murrelets nest in large, flat branches of old-growth coastal trees such as redwoods and sitka spruce. They are so secretive that scientists did not know where they nested until the 1970s.  At dawn and dusk, parent birds with a sardine, herring or anchovy in their beak fly at high speeds- close to 100 mph between sea and nest - to avoid detection of their nest by predators.  In central California, birdwatchers and other visitors to Waddell Beach near Ano Nuevo often see adults and juveniles on the water near shore.

The Santa Cruz mountains are the last stronghold for central California’s murrelets, with the population of about 450 individuals nesting mostly in Big Basin State Park. According to experts, the population has declined by about 35% in the last 10 years, due mostly to nest predation by jays, crows and ravens, the group of our native birds known as corvids. Major campgrounds are located in the heart of old growth redwood habitat in Big Basin State Park, providing ample food and supporting population growth of these nest predators. The background natural rates of nest predation by corvids on murrelets have increased greatly due to this food provisioning by humans in old growth forest.

In response to the comments submitted by the CBD, USFWS, and Audubon California, State Parks modified the proposed Plan by removing the intent to construct new cabins in one critical breeding area. But the Plan falls far short of the need to dramatically reduce recreation and camping in three other core murrelet breeding areas, especially during the nesting season. State Parks ignored reasonable proposals for “no net loss” of campgrounds within the Big Basin system, which would serve to accommodate visitors at this beloved state park while protecting murrelets and other sensitive wildlife.

The agency acknowledges that its proposed plan – which would increase recreation and camping in the most important murrelet breeding areas –would result in “unavoidable significant impact” to marbled murrelets. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made clear in its comments that the Park's Preferred Alternative is unacceptable and would result in violations of the Endangered Species Act. The USFWS  recommends Alternative 1, Facilities Removal and Resource Protection. We applaud USWFS for taking this strong and appropriate position.  We urge State Parks to heed FWS, Audubon and CBD and develop a new Preferred Alternative that will stabilize and increase murrelets, not push them further toward extinction.

Right now, the Parks and Recreation Commission needs to hear from the public as it nears a review and possible decision in May. Let the Commissioners know you oppose the Park’s Preferred Alternative which will harm marbled murrelets, which are so dependent on the old growth in Big Basin.  Tell them you support Alternative 1, the alternative supported by the Fish and Wildlife Service, because it will protect the marbled murrelet and other species, while providing ample recreational opportunities in this beloved state park.

Email your comments to In the subject line, please write "Big Basin General Plan."

If you live near Santa Cruz, attend the State Parks Commission hearing:

Friday, May 17, 2013 at 9 a.m. in the Forest Conference Center of the Hilton Santa Cruz/Scotts Valley, 6001 La Madrona Drive, Santa Cruz, California.


How you can help, right now