NMFS Proposes Critical Habitat For Beluga Whales
On December 2, 2009, the U. S. National Marine Fisheries Service published Federal Register notice proposing to designate critical habitat for the Cook Inlet beluga whale distinct population segment under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Two areas are proposed, comprising 7,809 square kilometers (3,016 square miles) of marine habitat.
NMFS wants public comment on all aspects its proposed rule. Comments must be received by NMFS by close of business on February 1, 2010. Requests for public hearings must be made in writing and received by NMFS by January 19, 2010.
NMFS published a Final Rule listing the Cook Inlet beluga whale as an endangered species on October 22, 2008 (73 FR 62919), available online at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2008/E8-25100.htm. In its publication notice of proposed critical habitat designation, NMFS explains that it
"considered various alternatives to the critical habitat
designation for the Cook Inlet beluga whale. The alternative of not
designating critical habitat for the Cook Inlet beluga whale would
impose no economic, national security, or other relevant impacts, but
would not provide any conservation benefit to the species. This
alternative is not .proposed because such an approach does not meet the
legal requirements of the ESA and would not provide for the
conservation of Cook Inlet beluga whale. The alternative of designating
all eligible occupied habitat areas also was considered and rejected
because some areas within the occupied range were not considered to be
critical habitat, and did not contain the identified physical or
biological features that are essential to the conservation of the Cook
Click here to read NMFS' publication of its proposed critical habitat designation
"Under this proposed rule (the preferred alternative), we do not propose to
exclude any areas. The total estimated economic impact associated with this
proposed rule is $157,000 to $472,000 (discounted at 7 percent) or $187,000 to
$571,000 (discounted at 3 percent). We propose this alternative because it results in a critical habitat designation that provides for the conservation of the Cook Inlet beluga whale, without economic effects of sufficient significance to warrant any exclusions
from that designation. Other areas within their range did not contain the identified physical or biological features that are essential to the conservation of the Cook Inlet beluga. This alternative also meets the requirements under the ESA and our joint NMFS- USFWS regulations concerning critical habitat."