Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Alaska Sues To Keep Beluga Whales Off The Endangered List

Once again, Gov. Sarah Palin shows not only her love of and commitment to the environment; but, also the integrity of both herself and her office. It would seem that she is openly on the side of whichever team is winning; whichever side will garner her most publicity; whichever side will prove most beneficial to her career; and, whichever side has the most money she can leave with.

Fresh from her defeat (and the environment’s gain) only six months ago when she tried to keep polar bears off the endangered species list comes Alaska’s (read Gov. Sarah Palin) plans to sue over the increased protection of beluga whales in the Cook Inlet.

Only five groups of beluga whales live in US waters off Alaska. Scientists listed the beluga whales as endangered last year after determining the whale would face extinction in less than 100 years. The population in the Cook Inlet has already dwindled to 375 from thousands.

Under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, all federally funded or permitted activities in the Cook Inlet are now subject to review.

“It's warranted because the beluga population near Anchorage may already be recovering through cooperative state and federal management efforts,” Gov. Sarah Palin said.

"This (endangered species) listing didn't take those efforts into account as required by law," Palin said in a press release posted online.

Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg found alleged procedural errors in the decision by the National Marine Fisheries. They also accused the Fisheries Service for not adequately explaining or building a strong enough case to explain why the Cook Inlet whales should be regarded as a “distinct population” worthy of special protection.

"Failure to consider protection measures already in place and failure to document and support key elements of this decision are major flaws in the final rule," Colberg said.

But various Alaska scientists and environmental groups close to the controversy criticized the lawsuit.

"It seems the Palin administration only likes one kind of science -- the kind it agrees with," said Craig Matkin, an Alaska marine mammal specialist with the North Gulf Oceanic Society. "Every objective expert who's looked at this small and isolated (beluga) population agrees it should be listed." Audubon Alaska scientist John Schoen noted that the protective status for local belugas was strongly endorsed by the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission empanelled by Congress.

Palin has warned that special beluga protections could do "serious long-term damage to the vibrant economy of Cook Inlet”. Besides being home to the well-known city of Anchorage, the basin is also a mature oil-producing area. Could this be the “vibrant economy” Palin is referring to?

This isn't the first time Palin has put Big Oil before the environment; and; her past behaviour proves, it won't be the last. "Gov. Palin seems more than willing to sacrifice endangered whales on the altar of oil companies," said Brendan Cummings, director of The Center for Biological Diversity.

“The endangered species designation doesn't have to turn into an economic calamity,” said Bob Shavelson, director of the Cook Inletkeeper organization, which advocates protecting the estuary's sealife and habitat while harvesting the Inlet's resources.

"Responsible development and endangered species can co-exist," Shavelson said. "The Palin administration should respect the science and the rule of law -- not throw public tax dollars at a frivolous lawsuit."

There are two main questions that need to be answered before the designation of “endangered species” can be granted. They are:
1. Are these belugas a separate species or subspecies than other belugas?
2. Is the number of belugas diminishing as rapidly as scientists claim?

Part of the answer lives on in archival materials.

In 1979 an aerial survey of the inlet belugas by University of Alaska biologists estimated their numbers at about 1,300 animals. In 1994 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) biologists only found half that many. By 1998, the population had fallen to 347, NMFS said.

That prompted strict controls on the Alaska Native subsistence harvest of the Cook Inlet whales under terms of the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Still, the beluga population in the inlet has been slow to respond, federal biologists say. The present population is estimated at about 375 whales.

Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd thinks that represents progress. "The population is stable and beginning to recover," Lloyd said in the governor's press release.

In a nine-page "notice of intent to file a lawsuit" Colberg also questioned whether the Cook Inlet belugas should be distinguished from four other populations that thrive off the coastline of western and northern Alaska.

Federal scientists say the answer is yes -- that Cook Inlet is home to the only beluga population south of the Alaska Peninsula and its glacial fjord and tidal estuary setting in particular provides a unique whale habitat.

Says Colberg: "These two determinations are inadequately documented." Sounds kind of lame when you consider Palin has announced that her stand is "Drill, Baby, Drill."

Check out the petition at:

1 comment:

kathi said...

I appreciate you taking the time and effort to email the petition in addition to posting it on your blog, Philippa. Sarah Palin galls my _______!!!!