You may not have heard of the marbled murrelet, a quite chubby, fluffy, black and white seabird, but the murrelet is causing a whole lot of legal strife in a logging dispute between the Sierra Club and the Department of the Interior.
The murrelet was declared a threatened species in 1992, and the bird's population has declined about 7 percent each year since. Further differentiating itself from an obese seagull, the murrelet is unique in that it is a seabird, but lives in old growth forests, traveling up to 50 miles to search for food.
"They are miraculous creatures and an indicator of the health of our forest," says Graham Taylor, a conservation organizer with the Sierra Club's resilient habitats campaign.
While the lawsuit was filed in late July, the defense has not yet replied, and there has not yet been a date set for a hearing, says Paul Kampmeier, an attorney for the plantiffs. Kampmeier says before the case is settled they plan to add more claims to the initial complaint.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not return phone calls for comment. The Department of Interior has a policy of not commenting on current litigation.
Although the primary focus of the lawsuit is logging in old growth forests and protecting the marbled murrelet, Taylor says the case is about more than just a few fluffy birds.
"We're pursuing pollution-based thinking," Taylor says. "We're in the preliminary phases of recognizing a problem with trust and judiciary issues to log land."
In addition to the marbled murrelet' habitat, Taylor is concerned about the impacts logging has on clean water and other species in the area, such as salmon, steelhead and oysters in Willapa Bay.
"We're always thinking about how actions in upper watershed will impact lower watershed," Taylor says.
There will always be tension between logging interests and environmental groups, but Taylor says he believes, in the end, it's a win-win to prevent logging in areas with endangered species.
Find the court complaint against the Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the following page.