Paul Harris Jones: Marbled Murrelet Protector

Paul Harris Jones is recognized locally and nationally for his dogged determination to protect marbled murrelet birds. The species is listed as threatened by both the provincial and federal governments. Jones and his wife, Mavis, received the Davidson Award from the Vancouver Natural History Society for their combined efforts to study and defend the murrelets (1999). Paul also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the SCCA (2004).

Paul was born in Shimla, India, and grew up on the densely forested slopes of the Himalaya Mountains. His father was one of the country’s leading ornithologists. At an early age Paul developed a similar passion. When he was a teenager some of his drawings were featured in a guidebook on Burmese birds. In 2007 Paul published Shaheen, a record of his experiences while training a saker falcon before releasing it back into the wild.

After moving to Canada in 1947 Paul studied forestry at the University of British Columbia. He then completed a postgraduate degree in Forest Economics at Oxford University in England. His next forty years were spent working for forest companies on the BC coast and overseas as a United Nations forestry consultant in countries such as Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

In 1993 Paul’s team discovered an active marbled murrelet nest in a mature conifer tree. This had never been done before in Canada and confirmed the important correlation between the birds and old growth forests. Murrelet eggs typically lie on the surface of  large moss and lichen-covered branches. Further sightings in 1994 and 1997 led to the creation of Spipiyus Provincial Park (SPP) in the Caren Range on the Sechelt Peninsula.

The survival of the marbled murrelets is uncertain. According to UBC professor Dr. Tara Martin, they may already be functionally extinct, unable to perform normally in their ecosystem. Paul’s commitment to them has not waivered. The Friends of Caren (FOC), the group he co-founded in 1991, is promoting a Jervis Inlet Biosphere Conservation Area. Paul is  Chair of the organization’s Sunshine Coast Ecological Biodiversity Sub-Committee.

SCCA: Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed, Paul. What are some of your best memories of nature while growing up in India?

Paul: I was always astonished by the number of species. Following my dad’s example, I had a collection of skinned birds. I also had a very fine collection of birds’ eggs including the famous lammergeier which is related to eagles and vultures.

SCCA: Scientists John Field and Kim Nelson played vital roles in locating the murrelets. Many volunteers with fewer qualifications also provided a lot of help. What are some important ways in which individuals can actively support conservation?

Paul: They can help with research. One of the best ways of finding the murrelets was to look for eggshells under trees. Many local birders such as Tony Greenfield got involved at an early stage. We also tried using dogs to find the eggshells but it didn’t work. By 1993 we had organized  stakeouts looking for birds carrying fish.

SCCA: During the campaign to protect the Caren Range thousands of people  participated in the tours your group offered. How much impact do you think they had upon the government’s decision to establish SPP in 1999?

Paul: I think they had a great deal of effect. People wrote letters and signed posters that we sent to Victoria. Many of the 2000-3000 people who came out during the first three years were very active in supporting our crusade to get a provincial park.

SCCA: A student named Volker Bahn was instrumental in locating the active murrelet nest in 1993. He is now an Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Wright State University. To what extent have you kept in touch or shared data over the years?

Paul: Not at all. I did know that he had become a leading marbled murrelet research assistant while working on his degree at the University of Victoria. (Note: Bahn’s research focused on the ecology/conservation of murrelets in Clayoquot Sound.)

SCCA: In 2004 the FOC submitted eleven recommendations for managing SPP. BC Parks hired consultants in 2005 and 2010 to identify ways to sustain the habitat. There is still no park management plan. What progress is being made on this issue?

Paul: As far as I know there is no further work being done. We suggested the closing of the road to Mt. Hallowell. There has been little use of that road. It’s dug up and brush is growing in. That’s what we want because we don’t support people going there. The more people who do go the less murrelet breeding there will be.

SCCA: Studies conducted by the Centre for WIldlife Ecology at Simon Fraser University found that fitting marbled murrelets with radio devices adversely affected the birds.  Are these tags still being used in murrelet research? Are there any alternatives?

Paul: No, they’re not being used. The tags fall off after a year or two. New tags are not being used. As far as I know there is no major murrelet research being done. Radar is being used here and there to locate the birds.

SCCA: A decade ago the FOC began working on the idea of a Jervis Inlet Biosphere Conservation Area. As well as supporting biodiversity, the goal is to protect First Nation cultural histories and other interests. What did you learn from your SPP campaign that has been valuable in developing the Jervis Inlet project?

Paul: Gilbert Joe of the shíshálh band worked closely with the FOC to create SPP. We developed a good rapport with the shíshálh and Squamish Nations. When we shared a map of our proposal for the Jervis Inlet park they were very keen. They insist that their sacred areas and local pictographs be protected. Developing a forestry strategy for the park will give them control over logging.

SCCA: Murrelets are more vulnerable to predators in fragmented forest and can be impacted by human activity. They require large tracts of undisturbed land that is not easily accessible. SPP is less than half the area originally requested  by the FOC.  Are you still trying to expand SPP to protect the old growth habitat?

Paul: No but the Jervis Inlet proposal is really an extension of SPP. We are continuing our research. The forest has really dried out. The second murrelet nesting tree I found in 1993 is standing but the moss has dried up and fallen away. I’m afraid that this is happening throughout the Caren Range. We may have lost as much as 30% of the trees due to global warming, Fewer murrelets are being detected.

SCCA: Marbled murrelets depend on the health of the oceans as well as the forests. Oil spills, fishing nets and boat traffic are a threat. What policies are needed  to protect marbled murrelets and preserve their food sources in our maritime waters?

Paul: We need marine protected areas set aside by the federal government. It is absolutely imperative in order for the murrelets to survive. The two kilometres closest to shore are the most important zones, as well as the inlets and fjords.

SCCA: The BC government’s Marbled Murrelet Order last December provided cause for optimism. Minimum thresholds for marbled murrelet habitat retention on Crown land included  a substantial quota in our region. Do you think that this improves the chance of success for the Jervis Inlet Biosphere Conservation Area submission?

Paul: I think we now have a very good chance of getting the park. It depends upon how many other organizations, including the SCCA, take up the cause. The BC Federation of Naturalists and Vancouver Natural History Society are backing us. The work we did in the Caren Range proved the value of large protected forests, especially where there are a lot of yellow cedar trees. They seem to be the  main trees for murrelets. Both of the nests we found in 1993 were in yellow cedar trees.

SCCA: BC has more species at risk than any other part of Canada. Many of them are protected in principle only. We are one of just three provinces without specific  regulations. Legislation has been promised but not enacted. How important is a provincial Species at Risk Act to the survival of the murrelets?

Paul: I am very encouraged by the Order which came out last year. It may help to protect the murrelets in Jervis Inlet, along the Brittain River and around the Sechelt area.

SCCA: You have estimated that a Jervis Inlet Biosphere Conservation Area could triple the level of tourism in our region. This would benefit the economy but to what extent could it affect the natural ambiance of major sites such as Chatterbox Falls?

Paul: I have some concerns. The increasing speeds of sailboats could be dangerous for marbled murrelets in places. They may need to restrict boats in areas known to have significant murrelet populations or limit them to areas with deep water.

SCCA: What developments have there been in the inter-governmental negotiations that will decide the fate of the Jervis Inlet Biosphere Conservation Area proposal?

Paul: They were planned for this summer but we’ve been told they have been pushed back, possibly until next year. It is a provincial initiative but a good case to pressure  the federal government on in order to protect marine habitat within a federal park.

SCCA: In what ways is your 2021 book, Marbled Murrelet Risking Extinction, different from The Marbled Murrelets of the Caren Range and Middlepoint Bight (2001)?

Paul: It draws attention to the real possibility of extinction. I challenged some of the officials in the provincial government who were working on marbled murrelets. They got busy and made the Order, something that had never been done before.

SCCA: Forestry is important to the Norwegian economy but clear cut logging was banned in 2016. Do you foresee this ever happening in Canada? What are the obstacles?

Paul: It is definitely possible. It depends on how good our government is at keeping  allowable cuts at a reasonable level. We could have a viable logging industry without clear cut logging. We are going further and further into areas that were impossible to reach before helicopter logging began.

SCCA: What inspires your ongoing drive to protect marbled murrelets?

Paul: They are an incredible species. When you are a guy who found one of the first nests then they really become a part of your life. You want to see them survive. They need to be preserved.

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