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Soundings Archive

NMFS Seeks Comment on Endangered Beluga Whale Critical Habitat
On April 14, 2009, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service published notice that it will be designating critical habitat for the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. This designation will involve areas within Cook Inlet, Alaska. NMFS' advance notice of proposed rulemaking identifies the following issues for consideration and evaluation and solicits comments regarding these issues:

    "(1) Information on the past and current numbers and distribution of Cook Inlet beluga whales;

    (2) Information describing the habitat type and quality of marine, estuarine, and freshwater habitats for all Cook Inlet beluga whales;

    (3) Within areas occupied by Cook Inlet beluga whales, information regarding the physical and biological features that are essential to the conservation of this DPS;

    (4) Any special management considerations or protection currently associated with essential physical and biological features within areas occupied by Cook Inlet beluga whales, such as any land use management plan, a state statute, a municipal ordinance, or other binding local enactment;

    (5) Any specific areas within the range of Cook Inlet beluga whales that may not qualify for critical habitat designation because they lack essential physical or biological features or may not require special management consideration or protections;

    (6) Any specific areas outside the area occupied by Cook Inlet beluga whales that are essential for their conservation;

    (7) Any specific areas that should be excluded from critical habitat designation because the benefits of such exclusion outweigh the benefits of specifying such area as part of the critical habitat;

    (8) Any current or planned activities in the range of Cook Inlet beluga whales and their possible impacts on areas that may qualify as critical habitat;

    (9) Any economic or other relevant impacts that may result from designating critical habitat, regardless of whether those impacts are attributable co-extensively to other causes, in particular those impacts affecting small entities;

    (10) Other benefits of excluding or designating a specific area as critical habitat; and

    (11) Potential peer reviewers for proposed critical habitat designations, including persons with biological and economic expertise relevant to the designations."
Critical habitat designation has significant consequences under U.S. law. For example, once critical habitat is designated, section 7 of the ESA requires Federal agencies to ensure they do not fund, authorize, or carry out any actions that will destroy or adversely modify that habitat. This requirement is in addition to the section 7 requirement that Federal agencies ensure their actions do not jeopardize the continued existence of listed species.

Public comment and information should be sent to NMFS by May 14, 2009.
  • Click here to read NMFS' ANPR on beluga whale critical habitat

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