Used with permission. Copyright Michael G. Shepard
Three years ago I read the following story written by West Coast environmental activist and musician Joey Racano. (You can hear his music here and read his blog here.)
I was just starting my online magazine Wildflower Stew and the story of this mysterious little auk touched my heart and I was determined to work hard to get their story and others like it out there to more people. I had a wonderful year publishing my magazine until disaster struck and it was hacked beyond my ability to fix it.
After a pause and a move, I started up again with this blog and recently I found the marbled murrelet is back in the news. So I am sending you Joey’s original story so you’ll know who this amazing little bird is and then you can read what we can all do so that the marbled murrelet is not lost to us.
The Miracle of the Marbled Murrelet
Last night in the recording studio, I watched in awe as my
friend and sound engineer ‘Marvelous’ Marco Forcone displayed some
footage on his computer monitor.
The screen was alive with all manner of Jellyfish gliding,
pulsating, and dancing like pre cambrian gypsies…
On one occasion, we both stood back, jaws dropped in wonder (like
two little boys!) as one specimen actually sent rythmic pulses of
bioluminesence cascading vertically down it’s entire length!
We stood silent in the brooding darkness of the room, imaginations
“Marco”, I said…
“God isn’t just an artist”….”He’s a mad artist!”.
To which Marco replied…
“I’m right with ya, Joey”.
Northern Humboldt county 1974-
The air was damp but smelled sweet, as the ‘tree surgeon’
made his way up the giant Redwood.
There, about 140 feet above the organic carpet of the lush olde
growth forest, he started to saw off a dead branch, when to his
surprise, he found a strange half bird/half fish, nestled in a mossy,
lichen padded impression!
After decades of searching, the nest of the fabled Marbled Murrelet
had been found!
This perplexing creature, the ‘missing link’ between Ocean and Olde
Growth, had hitherto proven so illusive that the National Audubon
society had a long standing reward offered for the first to discover
an active nest!
Like a tiny Penguin (in the ‘auk’ family) this lovely bird-fish
spends most of its life in the ocean, but drove scientists and
naturalists crazy due to it’s atypical nature!
A sighting actually found one more than 70 kilometers inland- with a
fish in its little curved beak (it’s scientific name, brachyramphus
marmoratus literally means ‘marbled with a short curved beak)!
These strangest and most wonderous of sea/forest penguins flies so
far, so fast, that researchers use radar guns to spot them as they
-just beneath the primordial forest canopy straight and true-
like darts from one habitat extreme to the other in the pre dawn light
and back again just after dusk!
Marbled brown and white, much like delicious coffee cake, with
large black eyes, and endearing habits like mating for life with only
their one true love, of all the beautiful forest family, these birds
are in the most danger!
In California, they nest only in the old growth trees being
destroyed by the fraudulent logging practices of Pacific Lumber
Company in Northern California!
Even with the ‘best’ strategies for sustainable logging of our
forests, (calling for 100 year ‘rotations’) none of the HERITAGE
TREES they use would be saved.
This means we aren’t allowing them their rightful place on the
canvass of the mad artist.
And that just isn’t right for any of us.
On December 27, 2007, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department charging that decisions about threatened and endangered species including the marbled murrelet were changed because of political pressure. The deputy assistant secretary, Julie Macdonald, resigned in May over allegations that scientists’ evidence had been ignored and their reports rewritten.
Earlier this fall, Earthjustice, a public-interest law firm representing several conservation groups, had written to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorn, asking that he reinstate the marbled murrelet. A lawyer for the group wrote that e-mails and meeting notes obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that MacDonald “improperly interfered with the science underlying the marbled murrelet status review.”
The US Fish & Wildlife Service had previously identified 3,590,642 acres in three states as critical habitat, but after the politically motivated rewrite is suddenly proposing to exclude 3,368,950 acres – leaving only 221,692 acres of protected habitat. Here is a copy of the revised proposal from November, 2006.
How did this happen? Craig Manson, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, was not happy with the results of a review that affirmed that the marbled murrelet in the Pacific Northwest deserved to be listed as threatened. The American Forest Resource Council, representing the timber industry, had sued the Fish and Wildlife Service to review the status of the marbled murrelets because 90 precent of the remaining old growth trees suitable for nesting (making them critical to the little bird’s survival, obviously) are found on public land – which the timber industry wanted to get their hands, er rather their chainsaws, on.
Everybody, and every bird, needs a home. The Endangered Species Act requires that federal agencies define and protect critical habitat “essential to the conservation of the species.” When the review affirmed that indeed the marbled murrelet was threatened, well, Craig Manson just rewrote it. In fact, Manson has been quoted as questioning the value of even trying to save species that are threatened – “because they can’t adjust to change.” Meaning, I suppose, that if the marbled murrelet can’t adapt to having their nesting sites clear-cut, then they’re expendable. This is the person who is head of the agency responsible for enforcing the Endangered Species Act!
The marbled murrelet faces the combined threats of logging, gill-net mortality, and oil spills. Big corporations behind them all. Maybe if we take the time, if we have the heart, to save this tiny, fragile, mysterious, innocent little feathered creature, we will have the heart for all the other work we’re going to have do to heal this wounded planet. I have a print of a beautiful watercolor of the marbled murrelet by artist Ram Papish – which you can get from Good Nature Publishing – over my computer to inspire me. If those little guys can keep on keepin’ on, so can I.
Here are some things you can do to help keep this little bird alive in our world:
Support those on the front lines.
North Coast Earth First! has used non-violent civil disobedience and direct action to save some of the last remaining old growth redwood and douglas fir forests left on Earth. Located in Humboldt County, California, they have a 20-year legacy of non-violence, including no property destruction, and they have brought tens of thousands of people together to save these ancient forests with a combination of tree-sits, roadblocks, rallies, lockdowns, media, ground support, legal support, lawsuits, and strong spirits. They also seek to end the destructive practices of clearcutting, herbicide spraying, and logging on steep and unstable slopes, and to expose the big timber corporations, as well as the corruption and complicity of the so-called regulatory agencies and law enforcement. Visit the main website for Earth First! for more opportunities to take action.
Join Earth Justice – their motto is “because the earth needs a good lawyer.” Oh boy, do we.
The Center for Biological Diversity protects endangered species and wild places through science, policy, education and environmental law. You can join their action network and become a biodiversity activist.
Of course, the venerable elder of the caring-about-birds family is the Audubon Society. You will find a wealth of information about the marbled murrelet and you can join local habitat protection groups, the Christmas bird count going on now or the actions associated with the Important Bird Areas.
And don’t forget – “Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea, joy to you and me.”
– Hoyt Axton