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Suit Seeks Protection for Sea Bird Living in Privately Owned Forests

April 17, 1993|Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — An environmental group sued state and federal agencies Friday, saying they had allowed Pacific Lumber Co. to ravage an old-growth Humboldt County forest inhabited by a threatened sea bird.

The U.S. District Court suit by the Environmental Protection Information Center also accuses Pacific Lumber of knowingly violating federal and state endangered-species laws that protect the marbled murrelet.

The suit mainly involves federal actions taken under the Bush Administration last year. But Mark Harris, a lawyer for the environmental group, said the change in administrations has made little practical difference in decisions by lower-level federal officials charged with protecting endangered species.

"Even if there is a change (in policy), the change will be too late to protect this species" unless a court intervenes, Harris told reporters. He also said the suit is the first attempt to require the federal government to enforce the Endangered Species Act on private land.

Pacific Lumber Co. lawyer Jared Carter said the company's tree-cutting, now halted by a state court order, had been reviewed and approved by state forestry officials who found no threat to the marbled murrelet.

He also said the federal government, which listed the murrelet as a threatened species last October, has not yet specified the habitat that must be protected to preserve the birds.

The robin-sized murrelet lives in old-growth coastal forests from Alaska to Northern California. Its habitat overlaps that of the northern spotted owl. The suit said the California murrelet population has plummeted from 60,000 to fewer than 2,000, concentrated in three colonies, one of which is the subject of the suit.

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