A Lane County circuit court judge says the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission violated state rules when it voted not to list a rare seabird as endangered.
Early last year, fish and wildlife commission members voted to change the status of the marbled murrelet from threatened to endangered under Oregon law. The change would have triggered the creation of conservation measures to protect the state-owned coastal old growth forest the seabird relies on for nesting.
But it wouldn't last. A few months later, after a push from the timber industry and coastal lawmakers, commissioners reversed their decision.
“But they didn’t give any reasoning or explanation for why the murrelet no longer was an endangered species or no longer met these criteria under Oregon law. And that’s what the court jumped on as being completely inadequate,” said Cascadia Wildlands lawyer Nick Cady, who was involved with the case.
In her ruling, Circuit Court Judge Lauren Holland said the commission didn't "provide any reasoned explanation" for reversing their previous decision to up-list the murrelet. "The Commission failed to provide a written basis for the denial."
This could mean revealing what had changed in the scientific evidence used by commissioners to initially vote to list the seabird as endangered. It’s something advocates for murrelet conservation say would be difficult to do.
“The weight of evidence over the decades indicates the species is in trouble,” says Portland Audubon Society avian conservation manager Joe Liebezeit.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which is charged with implementing the commission's rules, declined to comment.
The court ruling sends the order back to the agency, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the original vote to list the murrelet as endangered will stand.
Cady says conservation groups that challenged the state will be working to develop instructions to guide the agency’s next steps.