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Soundings Archive

CBD Threatens to Sue NMFS Over Seal Listings
During the week of June 1, 2009, the Center for Biological Diversity notified the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service of CBD's intent to file suit against NMFS for allegedly delaying protection of Arctic seals under the Endangered Species Act. In May 2008 CBD filed a petition to protect the ice-dependent ringed, bearded, and spotted seals under the ESA due to alleged threats from global warming and increasing oil development in their habitat. In September 2008, NMFS found that the three seal species may deserve Endangered Species Act protection, but NMFS has not made a decision on whether the species warrant legal protection within the one-year deadline provided by the statute.

CBD states that its June 2009 60-day notice of intent to sue is a legally required precursor before a lawsuit can be filed against NMFS for alleged violation of its duties under the ESA with regard to the seals.

CBD claims that climate change is causing an early breakup of sea ice, and that this endangers the seals' continued existence:

    "Ringed, bearded, and spotted seals use the sea ice in slightly different ways, but each depends on the sea ice for giving birth, rearing pups, and resting. Ringed seals, which are the primary prey for polar bears, excavate snow caves on sea ice to provide hidden, insulated shelters for themselves and their pups. The early breakup of sea ice destroys these snow sanctuaries, resulting in increased deaths of pups. Bearded seals, which are distinctive for their mustachioed appearance and their elaborate courtship songs, give birth and rear their pups on drifting pack ice over shallow waters, where their bottom- dwelling prey is abundant. The early retreat of the sea ice off the food-rich shallow shelves decreases food availability for these seals. Spotted seals, whose longer noses give them a dog-like appearance, rely on the edge of the sea ice away from predators as safe habitat for giving birth and as a nursery for their pups. Loss of sea ice and early sea-ice breakup threaten these seals' ability to successfully rear their young."
CBD has also filed similar petitions with the federal government seeking ESA protection of the polar bear, pacific walrus and ribbon seal. These petitions were filed during the bush administration. CBD claims the Bush and Obama administrations are similar in their responses to CBD's petitions:
    "Unfortunately the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has shown the same disregard for the law under the Obama administration as it did under Bush.... "Federal officials should not be allowed to view compliance with legal deadlines as optional."
  • Click here to read CBD's press release about seals suit

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