by Bob Berwyn, via Summit County Citizens Voice
Recognizing that the best available science suggests a significant loss of Arctic sea ice in the next few decades, federal biologists last week finalized Endangered Species Act protection for two species of ice-dependent seals.
NOAA will list as threatened the Beringia and Okhotsk populations of bearded seals, and the Arctic, Okhotsk, and Baltic subspecies of ringed seals. The Ladoga subspecies of ringed seals will be listed as endangered. The species that exist in U.S. waters (Arctic ringed seals and the Beringia population of bearded seals) are already protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
“Our scientists undertook an extensive review of the best scientific and commercial data. They concluded that a significant decrease in sea ice is probable later this century and that these changes will likely cause these seal populations to decline,” said Jon Kurland, protected resources director for NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska region. “We look forward to working with the State of Alaska, our Alaska Native co-management partners, and the public as we work toward designating critical habitat for these seals.”
Ringed seals and bearded seals, found in the waters off Alaska, are the first species since polar bears to be protected primarily because of climate change threats. Federal officials said the listing won’t result in any immediate restrictions on human activities, including the subsistence harvest of ice seals by Alaska Natives, a practice that is central to the traditional culture and nutrition in many Alaskan Native coastal communities. But federal agencies that permit or fund projects that may affect a listed species must consult with NOAA Fisheries to ensure the existence of the species is not jeopardized.
“Arctic animals face a clear danger of extinction from climate change,” said Shaye Wolf, Center for Biological Diversity science director. “The Endangered Species Act offers strong protections for these seals, but we can’t save the Arctic ecosystem without confronting the broader climate crisis. The Obama administration has to take decisive action, right now, against greenhouse gas pollution to preserve a world filled with ice seals, walruses and polar bears.”
The Center for Biological Diversity helped spur the listing with a petition filed in 2008. The National Marine Fisheries Service was under a court-ordered deadline to make a listing decision.