Some good news on endangered species, for a change (via Dateline Earth): the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will retain existing critical habitat currently designated under the Endangered Species Act for marbled murrelet populations on the West Coast. This is a reversal from the Bush Administration, which had been trying to reduce the habitat in order to allow more logging in the old-growth forests where the bird nests. The AP’s Jeff Barnard explains:

The Northwest Forest Plan, adopted in 1994 by the federal government to comply with federal court rulings, cut logging on national forests in Washington, Oregon and Northern California by more than 80 percent to protect habitat for threatened species such as the marbled murrelet, the northern spotted owl and salmon.

Two years later, Fish and Wildlife designated 3.9 million acres of forest, mostly federally owned, as critical habitat for the bird, as required by the Endangered Species Act.

But as part of a 2002 settlement of a lawsuit brought by the timber industry, the Bush administration agreed to review protections for the murrelet and other species that depend on old growth forests.

The deadline for a decision on marbled murrelet critical habitat was March 1.

The proposal that came out in 2006 argued that all but a fraction of the marbled murrelet’s critical habitat could be eliminated because the forests were already protected by the Northwest Forest Plan.

Since then, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has proposed jettisoning the Northwest Forest Plan to greatly increase logging on its lands in Western Oregon, which includes forests used by marbled murrelets.

“That’s created uncertainty, too much uncertainty for us to make a final decision right now,” Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Joan Jewett said from Portland. “We may decide to revise critical habitat later.”

The timber industry also filed a lawsuit to get the marbled murrelet’s endangered species designation removed, based in part on the idea that the murrelets in that area are not a “distinct population segment.” Earthjustice pointed out that this argument can be traced back to an infamous Bush appointee:

The timber industry began its courtroom campaign against the murrelet more than seven years ago. Big timber was given a huge assist in 2004 when the Fish and Wildlife Service was ordered by Julie MacDonald, a political appointee in the Bush Department of the Interior who recently resigned amid scandal over her bullying of agency scientists and political interference with biological decisions, to report that murrelets did not deserve protection in the lower-48 states. This finding reversed government scientists who had concluded the birds continued to need protection. Although currently under investigation by the Inspector General and Government Accounting Office, this last minute flip-flop formed the basis of the timber industry’s lawsuit.

A federal judge threw out that lawsuit, so the marbled murrelet’s defenders have two reasons to breathe sighs of relief.