2020 Washington At-Sea Marbled Murrelet Population Monitoring: Research Progress Report

Category: Wildlife Research

Published: March 2020

Pages: 16

Author(s): Monique M. Lance and Scott F. Pearson


In 1992, the marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) was listed as a Threatened species by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in California, Oregon, and Washington under the Endangered Species Act and as Threatened by Washington State. A federal recovery plan was published in 1997 that outlined recovery strategies including developing and conducting standardized at-sea surveys. In addition to meeting the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, marbled murrelet monitoring was designed to evaluate the effectiveness of the Northwest Forest Plan (Madsen et al. 1999), which is a large-scale ecosystem management plan for federal lands in the Pacific Northwest.

As part of the Effectiveness Monitoring Program of the Northwest Forest Plan, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Crescent Coastal Research, and other state, federal, and private researchers have participated in a program to estimate marbled murrelet population size and trends during the breeding season between San Francisco Bay and Washington state since 2000. The information derived from this effort is the only information available to assess population size and trends in this geographic area for this species. This monitoring program uses at-sea line transects within 8 km of the Washington, Oregon, and northern California coastline in the area covered by the Northwest Forest Plan. There are five monitoring zones or Conservation Zones throughout this range, two of which are in Washington: (Zone 1) Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound, Hood Canal, and the San Juan Islands; and (Zone 2) the outer coast of Washington. Both zones are currently monitored by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The U.S. Forest Service monitored Zone 1 from 2000-2012.

Between 2000 and 2015 we conducted annual surveys of both of Washington’s Conservation Zones. Due to funding constraints, in 2016 we implemented a reduced-sampling effort design, where Conservation Zone 1 is sampled in even years and Conservation Zone 2 is sampled in odd years. This report focuses on monitoring results from Conservation Zone 1 during the 2020 monitoring season (15 May - 31 July). We changed some aspects of our survey approach to keep our survey team safe during the COVID-19 pandemic (see Methods). Despite the complications of surveying during the pandemic, we completed all 30 PSUs in Zone 1.

The population estimate for Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 2020 (Zone 1) was 3,143 birds (95% confidence interval = 2,030 – 4,585 birds) with a -4.96% (95% CI = -7.01 to -2.86%) average annual rate of decline for the 2001-2020 period, assuming a constant rate of decline.

Suggested citation

Lance, M.M., and S.F. Pearson. 2021. Washington 2020 at-sea marbled murrelet population monitoring: Research Progress Report. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Wildlife Science Division.