County to U.S.: Act on bird or we'll sue
The Coos County Board of
Commissioners has put the U.S. Department of the
Interior on official notice: If it doesn't soon
change the restrictions guarding the threatened
marbled murrelet, the county will file a lawsuit.
“We're talking about real money and real jobs that
are at risk the longer it takes fish and wildlife
to make a decision,” Coos County Chairman John
Griffith said Wednesday.
The commissioners want to prod U.S. Fish and
Wildlife to take action on data made public in
September 2004, when the agency acknowledged that
its classification of murrelets as a “distinct
population segment,” was suspect. The
classification was a key condition on the road to
being protected under the 1973 endangered species
In the fall of 2004, USFW released a five-year
review of the marbled murrelet, stating the
classification of the bird as a threatened species
needed to be reconsidered and the agency needed to
complete a “range wide status review,” before
making any changes to the status of the species.
That was 131/2 months ago and in Coos County, the
commissioners are tired of waiting.
On Wednesday, the commissioners unanimously voted
on an agreement with the Pacific Legal Foundation
to have the Sacramento-based company represent the
county in what could become Coos County v.
Department of Interior and the United States Fish
and Wildlife Service. Commissioner Nikki Whitty
said the USFW will be notified of the county's
challenge and will have a set amount of time to
respond, she said.
A similar agreement with PLF in 2002 eventually
led Coos County to file a lawsuit against USFW
over the designation of critical habitat for the
western snowy plover. The county won that lawsuit,
which eventually resulted in USFW reducing snowy
plover critical habitat by 40 percent in Oregon,
California and Washington. In that case, Griffith
said, USFW had 60 days to respond to the initial
notice before the county filed the lawsuit.
“We are giving them a formal nudge. They should
have done something by now,” Griffith said.
Whitty said she voted for the contract for similar
“It reminds them that maybe they didn't finish the
job ... that maybe they should take care of it,”
All three commissioners spoke Wednesday of the
grave economic consequences that the protections
guarding the murrelet has had on public and
“The marbled murrelet is one of the critters
keeping us from being proactive on public lands,”
said Commissioner Gordon Ross.
A percentage of revenue gained from the sale of
timber from public lands, such as the Elliot State
Forest, helps fund education in Oregon.
But, Griffith said, when officials find evidence
that murrelets occupy timber sale sites, private
and public logging operations are ceased.
“That costs Oregon school children millions of
dollars per year,” he said.
Griffith said costs increased for the Coos County
natural gas pipeline that was installed between
Roseburg and Coos Bay because work crews could
only work at special times during the day and
year, so they would not “annoy the murrelet.”
Despite how some people may perceive him, or the
county's perceived lack of affinity for winged
creatures, Griffith said he doesn't hate birds.
“I love birds. I just don't like the misuse of
laws like this that hurt people,” he said.
His intentions regarding the latest bird in the
county's sights are clear.
“I want it off the list,” he said. “And if they
think it should be on the list, all the way to the
Aleutians, then let's look at that finding.
“But it's time for them to do something,” he said.