Impacts of the Big Basin General Plan on the Marbled Murrelet

-- Comments made by Steven Singer to the California State Park and Recreation Commission, May 17, 2013

My name is Steven Singer and I would like to offer my professional opinion. I am a Certified Wildlife Biologist who has been working on the marbled murrelet for many years. My research team discovered the third and fourth murrelet tree nests ever known to science. We were the first to observe fledging of a young murrelet from a tree nest, and the first to observe murrelet nest predation by ravens and jays, collectively known as corvids. These events took place in Big Basin in the 1990s. 

My recent work includes monitoring murrelet activity levels at a nesting site in Butano State Park. This site is now the most important nesting area in the Santa Cruz Mountains and has about four times as much nesting behavior as the developed areas of Big Basin. Murrelet numbers at Big Basin have dropped to only about 15% of what they were in 1995 and have remained low for the duration of more than one generation of birds. It is likely that most of the Big Basin breeders have either moved elsewhere or died off. The good news is that approval of the Big Basin General Plan won't lead to local extirpation of the murrelet. The bad news is that it also won't aid in the long-term recovery of the marbled murrelet, unless it is modified. It would be nice if we could restore the number of breeders at Big Basin to what it was in its prime. Corvid predation of chicks and eggs is a big problem for murrelets. There are two ways of mitigating this. One way is to physically 
separate campgrounds from areas with nesting murrelets. If murrelets are still attempting to nest in any particular campground this should be done. The other way to reduce corvid nest predation is by reducing the number of corvids in the park. Parks Department staff have taken this approach through such activities as: 

  1. Installation of food storage lockers at every campsite,
  2. Installation of corvid-proof trash cans throughout the park.
  3. Hiring a full-time seasonal naturalist to educate park users about the problem, 
  4. Placing an on-demand video exhibit about the problem in the Visitor Center,
  5. Mounting placards about the problem on every picnic table, and
  6. Conducted comparative corvid abundance surveys in campgrounds and control areas; the most recent results of which have suggested that these measures are reducing corvid numbers. I strongly urge the continuation of these efforts.

Lastly, we need to replace "piecemeal" planning for the murrelet with region-wide strategic planning. We need a Santa Cruz Mountains Murrelet Conservation Team consisting of biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the scientific community, and the State Parks Department. Such a team could propose and prioritize murrelet management actions throughout the entire Santa Cruz Mountains. Addressing the problems at Big Basin is just one part of what is needed to support the survival of the marbled murrelet in the Santa Cruz Mountains.