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Date: September 08, 2000

Rare Birds Nesting In Watershed

Rare and threatened marbled murrelets have been found nesting in the Sooke Hills, a few kilometres from Victoria. During an intensive two-year study, UVic researchers found three nests of these rare seabirds in old-growth forests near Sooke Lake, within the Greater Victoria watershed. A 1998 summer study confirmed the birds' presence in the area and a new report based on this latest study confirms the marbled murrelets are nesting.

"We are very excited by this discovery," says project leader Dr Alan Burger, a UVic adjunct biology professor. "Marbled murrelets need undisturbed old-growth forests for nesting, and these nests are the first to be found in the relatively dry Douglas-fir forest. Our team observed murrelet activity in several stands of forest near Victoria, but finding nests confirms that they are breeding here."

The three nests are all in small hollows high in 50-metre tall Douglas-fir trees and are invisible from the ground. Murrelets are very secretive when nesting and approach their nests in twilight at dawn and dusk, making it difficult to locate their nests. The team employed professional tree-climbers Kevin Jordan and Stephanie Hughes to search the giant trees in areas where observers, headed by Anna Young, had seen murrelets flying.

While the report expresses excitement at the discovery, it also raises some serious concerns about the future of murrelets on southeast Vancouver Island. Nearly all suitable habitat has been logged, and the few remaining murrelets are nesting in small remnant patches of old-growth forest. The researchers used a combination of computer-based mapping and field observations to classify and map habitat between Sooke and Parksville. They found that most suitable habitat lies within the Greater Victoria water supply area and the Sooke Hills Wilderness Regional Park, and in a few small patches on private land owned by logging companies.

The report makes several recommendations for maintaining and restoring the local murrelet populations. These include preservation of all remaining old-growth forests, establishing buffers of maturing second-growth forest around old-growth patches, setting-aside older second-growth as future murrelet habitat, and minimizing human activities in areas where murrelets are known to nest.

"Our study shows that raising the Sooke Reservoir will destroy some nesting habitat, but the Capital Regional District (CRD) has shown interest in the long-term management of murrelet habitat in the Victoria watershed. Development of hiking trails and picnic areas in the Sooke Hills will also need careful planning," says Burger.

Marbled murrelets are on the B.C. provincial "red-list" of threatened species, and are also listed as "threatened" by COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada). Murrelets spend most of their time at sea, but nest on thick branches of very large trees near the coast. Loss of old-growth forests is the main threat for this species. Funding for the project came from Forest Renewal B.C. and the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund, Endangered Species Recovery Fund and CRD.
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Media contacts:
Dr. Alan E. Burger (biology) at (250) 479-2446



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