The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected a timber industry petition to strip the marbled murrelet of Endangered Species Act protections.  The Pacific Northwest seabird is declining in population because of habitat loss and fragmentation and should remain listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service said in today’s Federal Register.

The American Forest Resource Council and other groups petitioned to remove the birds in 2008, citing results from a 2004 Fish and Wildlife review that concluded the U.S. murrelet population was indistinct from a Canadian population of about 66,000 birds. When considered jointly, the two populations did not represent an endangered species.

The Fish and Wildlife Service today said the 2004 study failed to take into account the greater threats faced by U.S. murrelets and said the two populations should be considered separately.

“Overwhelming evidence shows marbled murrelets are in deep trouble in Washington, Oregon and California, and we cannot deny them the protection they need,” said Tom Strickland, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. “This decision strongly reflects the Obama administration’s deep commitment to basing ESA decisions on the best available science.”

Murrelets depend on coastal old-growth forests for nesting, and habitat protections associated with their threatened status have restricted or banned logging in some forests.

An estimated 18,000 murrelets live in California, Oregon and Washington state. The seabird has experienced deep population declines in the past decade, according to Fish and Wildlife studies.