State Files Suit Challenging
Cook Inlet Beluga ESA Listing
Administration Continues to
Implement Five-Part Strategy
June 04, 2010
Anchorage, Alaska The State of Alaska today filed suit
against the federal government to challenge the listing of Cook
Inlet beluga whales as endangered under the Endangered Species
"It is with a sense of
frustration, but also with our resolve to uphold the interests
of Alaska, that we're filing suit to hold the National Marine
Fisheries Service (NMFS) accountable to its own rules and regulations,"
said Attorney General Dan Sullivan. "We presented a strong
case during the public review process that there is no need to
list this species as endangered because of the stabilization
of the beluga population and the protection measures already
in place. However, despite the validity of the concerns we raised,
our comments were discounted or ignored in the federal decision-making
process. At a time when we are seeing an increasing use and
abuse of the ESA, it is imperative that federal agencies abide
by the letter of the law in making ESA designations."
Sullivan said the Department of Law took significant time to
review substantial information about how the endangered listing
was reached, and reviewed and analyzed the legal requirements
for listing the whales under the ESA. "We believe that the
agency didn't adequately consider listing the whales as threatened,
rather than endangered, rejecting an alternative designation
that could have dramatically reduced impacts on our economy."
The Parnell administration also has submitted comments expressing
concern about the proposed designation of critical habitat for
Cook Inlet belugas, which threatens to stifle economic activity
at the Port of Anchorage and potentially even affect national
"We have been working with interested stakeholders to make
sure that federal regulators understand how potentially crippling
the proposed critical habitat designation would be to our economy,"
Sullivan said. "It is our hope to work cooperatively with
the NMFS towards this end. When the final rule is issued, we
will take a hard look and carefully weigh our options."
"We support the use of the Endangered Species Act to protect
species that are at immediate risk of extinction," said
Doug Vincent-Lang, the state's endangered species coordinator.
"For example, we supported the listing of the North Pacific
right whale, a stock whose numbers clearly demonstrate an immediate
risk of extinction, and the associated designation of critical
habitat. However, we do not believe that the listing of the
beluga whale as endangered is warranted at this time. We simply
do not accept that the projected risk of extinction for this
stock, which NMFS estimates to be less than 1 percent over the
next 50 years, warrants an endangered listing."
"The ESA is a well-intentioned and useful law," Sullivan
said. "However, in recent years it has been subject to
abuse, and we believe that federal agencies do not always fulfill
all of the law's requirements. Federal actions taken under the
ESA can have significant negative consequences for Alaska's economy,
so we've developed a five-part strategy to minimize those consequences."
Sullivan summarized the strategy as follows:
1. Taking action to avoid unwarranted listings by performing
ongoing research and monitoring of wildlife populations, reaching
pre-listing agreements when possible, and challenging the legal
basis for listing decisions when appropriate.
2. Engaging federal officials through programs that provide for
a deeper exchange of information. Such cooperation is needed
because Alaska state officials are often better informed and
have more scientific data about Alaska species than the federal
officials who make the final ESA determinations.
3. If a listing does occur, working to shape the critical habitat
designation and the recovery plan to minimize adverse impacts
to Alaska's economy.
4. Seeking to down-list and de-list species when the data shows
that they are no longer in danger of extinction and they have
met their recovery objectives.
5. Continuing efforts to raise public awareness about the ESA
and to develop alliances with other states to influence ESA policy
so it cannot be used as a tool to shut down natural resource
development and economic opportunity.
"Thanks to the Legislature's approving $1 million in funding
specifically for ESA-related work, we are making progress in
implementing this strategy," Sullivan said. "We will
continue working to ensure that the ESA does not stifle the development
of our natural resources, impede our traffic and commerce, or
threaten the economic future of our citizens."
On the Web:
Alaska's complaint, filed in
the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
Alaska's ESA strategy:
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