A settlement agreement between state parks officials and the Center for Biological Diversity will increase protections for an endangered seabird in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The marbled murrelet nests in old-growth forests and the birds have been threatened by garbage, predators and other issues. Under a settlement reached Tuesday, the state Dept. of Parks and Recreation will be required to reduce the dangers posed by visitor trash. The trash increases the abundance of predators that eat eggs and chicks.
Shaye Wolf of the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity called the settlement great news for murrelets in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
"These remarkable seabirds are dangerously close to extinction and many park visitors would be shocked to learn their trash adds to this decline," Wolf said. "The new protections will help make sure murrelets have a safe place to nest in our state parks again."
The organization filed suit against the state in June, claiming the state's new management plan for the Big Basin Redwoods State Park lacked adequate protections for the birds. The park supposes the largest remaining old-growth nesting habitat in the central coast region. Visitor garbage in Big Basin and two other redwood state parks has led to higher densities of ravens and Stellar's jays, two species that eat murrelet eggs and chicks.
The agreement also covers Portola and Butano state parks. Required measures include requiring animal-proof food storage lockers at all campsites,increased trash pickup, extensive public outreach that makes the murrelet a focal point of the parks and annual monitoring of the species' populations.
Marbled murrelets are listed as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act and threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. There are only about 450 murrelets in the Santa Cruz Mountains region, making this the most endangered and southernmost population on the west coast.