Bearded Ringed Seals Arctic Ocean
NOAA proposes threatened listing for Alaska ringed, bearded seals
by Jackie Bartz
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The federal government says projected sea ice loss could wipe out two seal populations.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wants to list bearded and ringed seals as threatened, but the state says it will fight the proposal because it’s based on speculation.
The ringed seals are found in the Arctic Ocean. Bearded seals are in the Bering Sea. They’re the main prey for polar bears.
Now, the feds say ringed seals are facing an even greater threat.
“These are the first species since polar bears to be listed because of threats to their sea ice habitat,” said Rebecca Noblin, the Alaska director of the Center for Biological Diversity.
“We have found that there is enough concern and evidence and science to indicate that they are likely to become endangered species in the foreseeable future,” said Julie Speegle with NOAA.
The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to list the seals in 2008 and sued to force a decision.
Noblin says the proposal is great news.
“This is really a positive step that they’ve proposed listing. What we’d really like to see now is for NOAA to actually do what it takes to protect these seal species, which means taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so that we can stop the melting of their sea ice habitat,” Noblin said.
The feds say climate change is melting sea ice, the primary habitat for the seals.
NOAA climate models were used to predict future sea ice conditions.
The state calls it speculation.
“We’re concerned that the service did not work with the state in the development of a model to justify the decision as a trustee of the species, the state, the service has an obligation under the Endangered Species Act to consult with the state,” said Doug Vincent-Lang with Fish and Game.
The threatened designation would likely come with a critical habitat designation, something members of the oil and gas industry oppose.
Shell hopes to drill in the Arctic waters where the seals are next summer.
The proposal doesn’t impact its immediate plans, but members of the oil and gas industry say the proposal is something they’ll watch very closely.
They also say that by proposing to list the species before it’s in danger, the feds are stepping on thin ice.
NOAA will list the proposal on the federal register next week. It will then open up a 60-day public comment period. After that, NOAA will consider the comments and decide whether to list the species as threatened.
The state plans to submit comments in opposition of the proposed listing.
NOAA will make a decision within a year.
Contact Jackie Bartz at email@example.com