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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 act.

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 reasons.

“It reminds them that maybe they didn't finish the job ... that maybe they should take care of it,” Whitty said.

All three commissioners spoke Wednesday of the grave economic consequences that the protections guarding the murrelet has had on public and private lands.

“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.




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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