Conserving the Nature of America

News Release

Marbled Murrelet Remains Threatened

June 17, 2009


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today the completion of a 5-year status review of the marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus), a rare seabird native to the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

“After a thorough review of the best available scientific and commercial information, the status of marbled murrelets in Washington, Oregon and California has not changed and the recovery criteria for removing the species from the federal list of threatened and endangered species have not been met,” said Ken Berg, Supervisor of the Service’s Washington State Fish and Wildlife Office. “Our review concludes that the tri-state population of marbled murrelets is a valid Distinct Population Segment under the Endangered Species Act, in accordance with Service policy, and should remain protected as a threatened species.”

In conducting the review, Service biologists considered more than 100 studies completed since the agency’s last 5-year review in 2004. These documents, and other information, revealed that the marbled murrelet population in Washington, Oregon and California continues to decline and faces a broad range of threats, such as nesting habitat loss and fragmentation and predation. Although some threats, such as gillnet bycatch and lack of regulatory mechanisms, have been reduced since listing, most continue and the species faces new threats, such as abandoned fishing gear at sea, harmful algal blooms and observed changes in the quality of the bird’s marine food supply.

For the first time, direct data are available to evaluate population trends for the marbled murrelet in the three-state area. For the area from the mouth of the San Francisco Bay to the Canadian border, 2001 to 2008 data document an estimated annual decline of 4.3 percent and a total drop of 34 percent. South of the mouth of the San Francisco Bay, the decline is steeper: 75 percent from 2003 to 2008. The total population estimate is about 18,000 birds.

“Our review shows this remarkable bird remains in trouble,” Berg said. “The Service is committed to working with our partners to stop this downward population trend and get this species on the road to recovery.”

The 5-year review was conducted internally within the Service through a multi-office team effort. The Service considered information that has become available since the analysis for the 2004 5-year review of the marbled murrelet, such as: population and demographic trend data; genetics; species competition; habitat condition and loss; the amount, distribution and quality of the murrelet’s food supply; the effects of climate change; proposals for energy development projects and energy production; adequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and management and conservation planning information. The review assessed whether new information indicates that the species’ population is increasing, declining or stable; whether existing threats are increasing, stable, reduced or eliminated; if there are any new threats; and if new information or analysis calls into question any of the conclusions in the original listing determination as to the species’ status.

The 2004 5-year review concluded that the currently listed population was not a valid DPS. However, the Service now finds that the California, Oregon and Washington population is discrete at the international border due to the following reasons: 1) the coterminous United States has a substantially smaller population of murrelets (approximately 18,000) than does Canada (approximately 66,000); 2) breeding success of the murrelet in Washington, Oregon and California is considerably lower than in British Columbia; and 3) there are differences in the amount of habitat, the rate of habitat loss and regulatory mechanisms between the countries.

The 5-year status review and other related information can be found at:

The Service will use the 5-year review to inform its consideration of a 2008 petition to delist the marbled murrelet population in Washington, Oregon and California. A decision on the delisting petition is expected in the coming months.

The Washington, Oregon and California population of the marbled murrelet was federally listed as threatened in 1992. Critical habitat was designated in 1996. In 1997, the Fish and Wildlife Service approved a recovery plan for the marbled murrelet that specified actions necessary to halt the decline of the species. The Plan is available at

The marbled murrelet is a small robin-sized, diving seabird of the Alcidae family. Murrelets spend most of their lives in the marine environment, where they forage in near-shore areas and consume a diversity of prey species, including small fish and invertebrates. In the murrelet’s terrestrial environment, the presence of platforms (large branches or deformities) used for nesting is the most important characteristic of their nesting habitat. Murrelet habitat use during the breeding season is associated with the presence and abundance of mature and old-growth forests, large core areas of old-growth, low amounts of edge habitat, reduced habitat fragmentation, proximity to the marine environment, and forests that are increasing in stand age and height.

Information contained in older news items may be outdated. These materials are made available as historical archival information only. Individual contacts have been replaced with general External Affairs office information. No other updates have been made to the information and we do not guarantee current accuracy or completeness.

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