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Alaska Judge Rejects Bearded Seals' 'Threatened' Status


July 28, 2014

(SitNews) Anchorage, Alaska - Alaska industry, Alaska Native groups, and state and local governments scored a significant win Friday when U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) listing of the U.S. Arctic population of bearded seals under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was “inherently arbitrary and capricious.” The court ordered the listing action by NMFS immediately vacated.

jpg Alaska Judge Rejects Bearded Seals' 'Threatened' Status

Kotzebue Area: Bearded Seal
Photo courtesy NOAA Fisheries

In a consolidated lawsuit led by the Alaska Oil and Gas Association (AOGA) and the American Petroleum Institute, a coalition of the oil and gas industry, Alaska Native groups, Alaska governments, argued that NMFS’s decision to list the Beringia subpopulation of bearded seals as a species threatened with extinction was unprecedented and unlawful.

Plaintiffs contended that the listing decision was based on speculation about what could happen in a century as a result of global climate change, if the species responds in a manner that has not been observed, and if the theoretical future impact on the species is of a magnitude that is scientifically impossible to determine.

Judge Beistline agreed. “After reviewing the voluminous record and the applicable caselaw, the Court has determined that the action of NMFS listing the Beringia [subpopulation] of bearded seals was ‘arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.’”

Judge Beistline emphasized that “the lack of any articulated discernable, quantified threat of extinction within the reasonably foreseeable future” was a critical failing of NMFS’s listing decision. The court also held the agency’s listing decision was procedurally defective in failing to comply with a statutory duty to adequately consider and respond to comments submitted by the State of Alaska.

“This decision is a win for science,” said Kara Moriarty, AOGA President and CEO. “Throughout this process, AOGA has maintained that no scientific evidence exists to link climate change now or in the future to adverse effects on these species. AOGA’s opinion is that these listings were not supported by the available scientific data, which show bearded seal populations to be healthy, abundant, and thriving. We are gratified that Judge Beistline agreed.”

The U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska overturned the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) 2012 listing of the Beringia population of bearded seals as threatened under the Endangered Species Act on July 25th. The Beringia population of bearded seals can be found within Alaska and U.S. lands and waters.

“We are pleased the court agreed that the listing of the bearded seal was not warranted,” said Attorney General Michael C. Geraghty. “The listing was based solely on speculative 100-year projections that lacked any credible scientific evidence. Because it was unnecessary the listing would only place unnecessary and costly regulatory burdens on responsible development opportunities and divert resources from helping species that truly need it.”

In order to list a species under the Endangered Species Act, NMFS must show a connection between the scientific data and the decision to list. NMFS admitted that the Beringia population is currently at healthy levels but decided to list the population anyway. Alaska and others sought to overturn the threatened listing on the grounds that the decision lacked the necessary scientific evidence to support the decision.

“The State is committed to the sustainable management of its wildlife, but in this instance there was no demonstrated need to list the seals,” Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell said. “We are pleased that the court acted on the admission by NMFS that it lacked any reliable data as to the actual impact on the bearded seal population as a result of the loss of sea-ice out to end of the century. We are also pleased with the Court’s finding that in this case forecasting more than 50 years into the future is simply too speculative.”

Edited by Mary Kauffman


On the Web:

The case is Alaska Oil & Gas Association v. Blank et al., case number 4:13-cv-00018, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska.

Source of News: 

Alaska Department of Law

Alaska Oil & Gas Association

The Alaska Oil & Gas Association is a private, business trade association. Its 14 member companies represent the majority of oil and gas exploration, production, transportation, refining and marketing activities in Alaska.

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