District Court Rejects State Challenge to Beluga Listing
November 21, 2011
The State of Alaska sued the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Department of Commerce to challenge the listing of the distinct population of beluga whales in Cook Inlet. The State maintained that the listing process was flawed and did not adequately involve the State or consider the state conservation measures already in place to protect beluga whales in Cook Inlet. The State’s briefing also challenged the modeling methodology used by the NMFS to determine the extinction risk, including whether a 1 percent chance of extinction in 50 years supports an “endangered” listing. Also at issue was whether the NMFS improperly applied recovery standards in making an initial species listing decision.
“We are disappointed with today’s ruling,” Attorney General John Burns said. “We maintain that the listing process was defective because it did not sufficiently involve the State or consider the conservation measures already in place to protect Cook Inlet belugas. We are reviewing the decision and considering further options.”
Concerns about unsustainable subsistence harvest of Cook Inlet belugas during the 1990s led to harvest restrictions beginning in 1999. Listing under the ESA was not found necessary at the time because the harvest concerns had been addressed. A new petition led to the listing of a distinct population of beluga whales in Cook Inlet in October 2008. Alaska carefully reviewed the listing decision and the underlying administrative record, and filed suit in June 2010 to challenge the listing based primarily on the NMFS’ procedural missteps, which failed to adequately consider State input and existing conservation efforts.
Several parties including the Alaska Center for the Environment, Center for Biological Diversity, Cook Inletkeeper, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, and North Gulf Oceanic Society intervened in the case supporting the federal agencies. Escopeta Oil Company, LLC intervened to support the State’s challenge to the listing decision.
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