Governor Announces Challenge
to Beluga Listing Decision;
Provides Federal Agencies with Notice of Intent to Sue
January 14, 2009
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin announced today that the State of
Alaska filed a notice of intent to file a lawsuit challenging
the federal government's decision to list beluga whales in Cook
Inlet as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
"The State of Alaska has worked cooperatively with the federal
government to protect and conserve beluga whales in Cook Inlet,"
said Governor Palin. "This listing decision didn't take
those efforts into account as required by law."
The notice of the state's intent to sue was sent to the Secretary
of Commerce and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
It asserts that the listing decision should be withdrawn due
to failure to adequately consider conservation or protection
efforts by Alaska, failure to provide to Alaska's agencies an
adequate written justification for portions of NMFS' final rule
not consistent with the agencies' comments, failure to properly
document or support its determination that the beluga whales
in Cook Inlet comprise a distinct population segment and failure
to provide a public review and comment period on significant
studies and documentation used to support the listing.
"With this notice of intent, we are informing the federal
agencies that, unless corrected, we will file suit due to the
decision's failure to comply with provisions of the Endangered
Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act," said
Attorney General Talis Colberg. "Failure to consider protection
measures already in place and failure to document and support
key elements of this decision are major flaws in the final rule."
Concern about the decline in Cook Inlet Beluga whales led the
State of Alaska to petition NMFS to list the whales as depleted
under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which resulted
in restrictions on harvest beginning in 2000. The population
has since stabilized and shows signs of recovery. Population
estimates have increased 30 percent since 2005.
The state has placed much of the important beluga habitat within
Cook Inlet in protected status, including several state game
refuges and critical habitat areas. Recent actions by the Alaska
Department of Natural Resources have maintained protection of
important habitat by removing it from lease and sale offerings,
even though there was no evidence of any habitat decline or habitat-related
cause for the population decline.
The listing decision failed to properly consider the substantial
regulation by the state and its political subdivisions of beluga
habitat and food supply covering nearly every aspect of the environment
affecting beluga whales in Cook Inlet, including water quality,
oil and gas development, coastal and upland development, prey
species management, cruise ship regulation, and port development,
among many others. These laws, when considered together with
existing federal regulations, ensure that beluga whales in Cook
Inlet are well- protected.
"Belugas are protected by the State of Alaska and the federal
Marine Mammal Protection Act," said Alaska Department of
Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd. "An ESA listing
is not appropriate or necessary at this time. The population
is stable and beginning to recover, just as we predicted when
advocating for MMPA protection."
In written comments to the agency, the State of Alaska disagreed
with many aspects of the decision including questionable use
of computer population modeling, the contention that the belugas
in Cook Inlet are a separate and distinct population from other
belugas and the premise that a 1 percent chance of extinction
in 50 years meets the criteria necessary for an endangered species
"While challenging the listing, we will continue to protect
beluga whales," said Governor Palin. "We will also
be assisting Alaskan communities and stakeholders with navigating
the complex bureaucratic process this listing decision imposes
on their projects and working cooperatively with federal agencies
on the required consultations, designations of critical habitat
and development of a recovery plan and objectives."
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