Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
October 2017

Vol. 22, No. 41 Week of October 08, 2017

Fish & Wildlife declines walrus listing

Says species is adapting to sea ice loss, the animals’ population is stable and predictions far into future are too speculative

Alan Bailey

Petroleum News

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declined to list the Pacific walrus as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The walrus species, which is found throughout the Bering and Chukchi seas and occasionally in the Beaufort and East Siberian seas, is one of a number of species impacted by the loss of Arctic sea ice as the climate warms. However, Fish and Wildlife has determined that the walruses are adapting to sea ice loss in a manner that had not previously been anticipated. Furthermore, trying to predict the behavioral responses of the animals beyond 2060, the year that marks the end of what is referred to as the “foreseeable future,” is too speculative to be considered, the agency says.

The species continues to enjoy protection under the terms of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“Our decision not to list the Pacific walrus under the Endangered Species Act at this time is based on a rigorous evaluation of the best available science, which indicates the population appears stable, and the species has demonstrated an ability to adapt to changing conditions,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Greg Sheehan. “If future circumstances warrant or new information comes to light, we can and will re-evaluate the Pacific walrus for ESA protection.”

Responses to decision

The Center for Biological Diversity, which had petitioned in 2011 for the listing of the Pacific walrus, expressed its disappointment.

“This disgraceful decision is a death sentence for the walrus,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director for the Center. “Walruses face extinction from climate change, and denying them critical protections will push them closer to the edge.”

The listing of species that may be threatened by the loss of Arctic sea ice is controversial in Alaska, because of the potential impact of the listings on subsistence and economic activity in the region. Some argue that the listings tend to apply to healthy animal populations and are speculative in their analyses of future population trends.

Gov. Bill Walker expressed his satisfaction with the Fish and Wildlife decision.

“Alaska’s First People have long relied upon the Pacific walrus for subsistence uses,” Walker said. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision confirms the State of Alaska’s data-driven findings that the Pacific walrus population is currently robust and adapted to living in a dynamic environment.”

The Alaska Congressional delegation also expressed its support for the decision.

“I am pleased with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to not add the Pacific walrus to the endangered or threatened species lists,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski. “Their thorough review, driven by the best available data and science, found that the population of Pacific walrus is robust and healthy, and has proven that it can adapt to the changing conditions in the Arctic.”

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